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" I own the power 
Of local sympathy that o'er the fair 
Throws more divine allurement, and o'er all 
The great more grandeur, and my kindling muse, 
Fired by the universal passion, pours 
Haply a partial lay." 

Carrington's Dartmoor. 




ftamurs, OtutoniB, Supmtttfona, Smurp, 9ntfqutt(r«, 

Eminent yeraons, tlr. 



VOL. I. 




J- ■?-¥*' 


The late Mr. Richard King, of Crediton, a gentleman 
well known and of high estimation in the literary 
world, had undertaken to write a Preface to these 
volumes, and was on the point of fulfilling his purpose 
when it was put an end to by his lamented death. 
Mr. King was specially qualified for the task, not 
only by his knowledge of the county of Devon, and 
by the general bent of his tastes and pursuits, but 
also by the warm interest he felt in Mrs. Bray's 
treatment of the subject. The loss of his introduc- 
tory remarks will therefore, it is feared, be but in- 
adequately supplied by those which the publishers 
are desirous of offering in their place. 

The compression of the three volumes of the 
original work into the two of the present edition 
has been made by Mrs. Bray herself, who has cur- 
tailed only such matter as, from lapse of time and 
change of circumstances, would be without value to 
the reader of the present day. The biographical, 
historical, antiquarian, and descriptive portions have 
merely undergone careful revision ; and it is hoped 
that their interest has been enhanced by the addition 
of a considerable number of wood-cut illustrations. 


All but one of the sketches for these (made on the 
spot) have been kindly supplied by a relative of Mrs. 
Bray's, Mr. C. N. Kempe ; that of Sheeps Tor and 
the valley beneath by her old and much esteemed 
friend Sir Robert P. Collier. 

It being Mrs. Bray's particular desire that atten- 
tion should be drawn to her late husband's, the Rev. 
E. A. Bray's, Dartmoor researches, and her feelings 
being deeply interested in this, the publishers think 
it best to quote what she herself has written to them 
on the subject. 

"It is but justice to state that my lamented husband, 
then a very young man, was the first who personally com- 
menced those researches, which have thrown so much light 
on the antiquities of the Western limits of Dartmoor. Many 
have since followed, but he led the way. Mr. Bray's notes 
and observations, with the sketches he made on the spot 
of several of these antiquities, will be found in the following 
pages, and are now more than ever of interest and value ; as 
it is much to be feared that many of the originals no longer 
exist, from the destruction which for the last few years has 
unfortunately been allowed on Dartmoor." 

It is understood to have been Mr. King's intention 
to introduce into his Preface the letter of Southey, 
in which he suggested to Mrs. Bray the idea which 
she has realised in these volumes, and to follow this 
up with extracts from other letters addressed by that 
eminent man to the author during the progress of her 
task. In accordance with this intention the following 
are given from the selection of letters published in 
1856, by the late Rev. J. W. Warter, Southey 's son- 
in-law. Over and above their relation to the present 


publication they have an interest in connection with 
the mind and character of their distinguished writer, 
which it is believed will render any apology for their 
introduction unnecessary. 

"Keswick, February 26th, 1831. 

" I should like to see from you what English literature 
yet wants — a good specimen of local history, not the anti- 
quities only, nor the natural history, nor both together 
(as in White's delightful book about Selbourne), nor the 
statistics, but everything about a parish that can be made 
interesting — all of its history, traditions, and manners that 
can be saved from oblivion (for every generation swoops 
away much) ; the changes that have been and that are in 
progress; everything in short that belongs to the pursuits 
either of historian, biographer, naturalist, philosopher, or 
poet, and not omitting some of those 'short and simple 
annals ' of domestic life which ought not to be forgotten. Such 
works in general have been undertaken by dull men; but there 
are few tasks upon which a lively, and feeling, and spiritual 
mind might be more agreeably or usefully employed." 

This was the first suggestion, but from various 
causes the commencement was not made until the 
following year, 1832. 

On Mrs. Bray expressing a wish to adopt the form 

of letters addressed to Mr. Southey, and to introduce 

Mr. Bray's papers relating to Dartmoor, Mr. Southey 

replied : 

"Keswick, March 14th, 1831. 

. ..." I am very glad that my suggestion has pleased 
you. What you do willingly you are sure to do well, and 
with the singular advantage of such a helpmate as Mr. Bray, 
and his previous collections and knowledge of the recondite 
parts of the subject, you will find it equally -agreeable and 
easy* The epistolary form is at the same time pleasing and 


convenient ; it allows of as much miscellaneous matter as 
you like to introduce, and transitions are made in it from 
one subject to another with less difficulty and more grace 
than in any other mode of composition. Of course I cannot 
but feel gratified at your proposal of addressing them to 
me ; and I may as well take this opportunity of saying that 
letters of any weight will reach me, if they are sent under 
cover to ... . So you see I may receive the letters as 
letters, and return them through the same channel, with any 
comments, should any occur, which may seem useful." . . . 

In a letter dated Keswick, March 14th, 1832, the 
receipt of Mrs. Bray's first letter is thus referred to. 

"It" (the MS.) "did not remain a single hour unread. 
We have all been greatly pleased with it, and without doubt 
you will make it a very attractive book, and set in it a very 
good and meritorious example. You have given me a great 
desire to see Dartmoor, which I only know by having skirted 
it from Moreton to Ashburton on foot, with a knapsack 
across my shoulders and Coleridge for my companion, on 
Thursday, September 12th, 1799. We had slept the pre- 
ceding night at that inn where Mr. Bray's father was detained 
by the snow. I had not then industry or patience enough 
to make minute journals when travelling, and trusted too 
much to a vivid memory; and this I have often had occasion 
to regret But in turning to the short notes which were 
made that day I find mention of Bovey and Manaton, 
Becky Fall, &c 

"Your salting story exceeds any that I ever met with 
for its combination of the shocking and the comical. I 
had inserted more specimens of Mary's poetry 1 than are 
found in the 'review;' but in these things you know an 

1 Alluding to a review he wrote for the Quarterly of Mary Maria 
Ceiling's poetry,- which Mrs. Bray had recently edited and published 
for Mary's benefit. A portrait of Mary was given as frontispiece. 


editor uses his own discretion. Every one from whom I 
hear of it is delighted with the book, and with you and 
with Mary Colling, and with Mary Colling's sweet face, 
which I can assure you has been greatly admired at Copen- 
hagen." 2 

Under date Keswick, June 12th, 1832, he writes : 

"Your pixies are pleasant creatures; I knew them of 
old by Coleridge's poem about them, which was written 
before he and I met in 1794, but your stories were new to 
me, and have amused my fireside greatly. We have no 
playful superstitions here, or if there are any they have not 
come to my knowledge ; but I much suspect that the popular 
superstitions of the mountainous countries are generally of 
a sterner character than such as belong to milder regions. 
.... Your country abounds in Druidical remains more 
than any other part of the island ; but I was ignorant of 
this till you informed me of it, and, indeed, the honour of 
having established this curious fact belongs to Mr. Bray. 
Poor Smith's is a very affecting story; 3 and there are too 
many such tragedies in real life which it is more easy to com- 
passionate than to prevent or even relieve." . . . 

"Keswick, July 14th, 1832. 

"There is no reason why I should detain your letters 

after my womankind have enjoyed them These 

extracts from Mr. Bray's Journal will certainly have the 
effect of bringing many curious travellers to Dartmoor. . . . 
The drawings excellently illustrate the Journal ; Mr. Bray's 
reasoning about the artificial formation of the basins is con- 
clusive." 4 

"Keswick, May 26th, 1833. 

"I am much pleased with your account of Mr. Doney, 
and so will every one who reads it 5 Poor man, were he in 

* The Rev. Mr. Waiter was at that time English chaplain at Copen- 
hagen. 3 Vol. i. p. 183. 4 Vol. i. p. 214. 5 Vol. ii. p. 21. 


comfortable health dearly should I like to hear him talk, 
and to take a pinch of snuff out of his snuff-box and offer 
him one out of mine ; for although not an habitual snuff- 
taker, I carry a box when travelling. .... Your garden 
and all its accompaniments is most inviting in description. 
If I had wings, or the wishing-cap, I should be there as 
quickly as they could transport me. My wishes are not 
much more reasonable than those of the lover who was for 
annihilating time and space. I want to be in several places 
at the same time, and do many things at once." 

"Keswick, October 13th, 1833. 

" Your last packet has been detained thus long, because 
I have been working as hard in maritime war 6 as if I were 
a galley-slave myself. .... These letters which are now 
returned are very interesting; the biography, the stories, 
the superstitions — in short, the whole. I return them, as 
you direct, through Sir Francis Freeling. Franks are scarce 
at .... at this time." 

"Keswick, January 30th, 1834. 

"If I had been less interested with your concluding 
packet, I should have been in more haste to return it Its 
whole contents are remarkably attractive; and there are 
few things of the kind which I have read with so much 
pleasure as your account of Mr. Bray. 7 A great deal of 
pleasure is produced by vers de sociktk — a phrase which 
may with sufficient propriety be rendered by social verses, 
or social poetry. I suppose that in most countries the 
number of such poems will be in proportion to the degree 
of civilization, or rather of refinement ; that there may be 
civilization without refinement the Americans are taking 
great pains to teach us. Such verses, independent of the 
immediate gratification which they impart, derive their value 

6 Mr. Southey was engaged with his Naval History. 

7 Vol, ii. p. 302. 


from time. We gather from them some indications of the 
personal character and personal history of the writer, and 
they show the manners and opinions which prevailed when 
they were written. You see that I am far from thinking 
meanly of such verses ; and in their class Mr. Bray's are 
what they should be. 'Life' is, indeed, a very striking 

" Moreton was the birthplace of my old friend Lightfoot, 
and for his sake I have always felt some regard for the 
place. Such a punch-bowl tree as you describe I have seen 
by the road side near Breda, perhaps they are still common 
in the Low Countries; this one I particularly remember, 
having passed it several times. Some of the persons with 
whom Mr. Bray associated during his London life I also 
met with many years ago. Dr. Shaw was one, the learned 
Shavius he was called, some foreign naturalist having 
Latinized his name thus unluckily for English ears. Shield 
I met at Mrs. Barbauld's seven or eight and thirty years 
ago, and many years afterwards had occasion to communi- 
cate yearly with him as Poet Laureate, my verses and his 
music being for many years duly composed, lest they should 
be called for, till happily the custom fell into such disuse 
that we spared ourselves any further trouble. Barry I also 
knew > Combe (Dr. Syntax) I have met with — but perhaps 
this was not Mr. Bray's Combe — Flaxman, and Kemble. 
Browne, the traveller, was a native of this country. I am 
acquainted with his relations. Their account corresponds 
with yours. He was a man who let out nothing in conver- 
sation, and seems to have inspired as little attachment as 
he felt. Walking Stuart I have heard so much of that it 
was very agreeable to me to hear more of him. • 

" And now I hope your book will not be long before it 
finds its way to the press ; and if you have as much pleasure 
in reading a proof-sheet as I have, I may wish you joy of 
your employment. " .... 


The last extract refers to the arrival of the printed 
volumes from the publisher, Mr. Murray. 

" Keswick, February 28th, 1836. 

"You will have rightly supposed that, being in daily 
expectation of your book, I delayed writing till it should 
have arrived. It has now been eight and forty hours in 
Keswick, and, as I cut the leaves myself, I refreshed my 
memory with what had been read before, and perused what 
was new to me. The book is more than interesting, 
it contains a great deal of curious matter, and a great 
variety of information. You have brought together in 
it many things well worthy of preservation, which must 
otherwise have been forgotten, because there would have 
been none to collect them, and you have collected them 
just in time. And no one could have done this except 
yourself; for no one else could have had such assistance 
from Mr. Bray. Such gleanings of tradition are very de- 
lightful to me. How often have I had cause to wish that I 
had, while it was possible, preserved all that the elders of my 
own family could have told me of their elders, and of the 
little circle in which they lived, of their own times and the 
times before them. But it is long since I have had any of 
these oracles to consult ; for many years (with the exception 
of a good old aunt living at Taunton) I have been the eldest 
of my race." 

In the following year Southey reviewed the work 
in the Quarterly, 

The considerations which have led to the present 
republication may be stated very briefly. 

The book has been a long while out of print and 
difficult to procure, even in the libraries of the chief 
towns in the county, while the inquiries for it have 


been increasing in number and frequency. Many 
circumstances have of late years drawn more and 
more attention to Dartmoor, and awakened a keen 
interest in it and its neighbourhood. The tide of 
summer touring, swollen by the extraordinary facilities 
of the day for locomotion, has found channels that 
have carried it to districts within our own shores, 
attractive for their wildness, their picturesque beauty, 
their healthfulness, or whatever other allurements are 
strong enough to draw our dwellers in towns away from 
the bustle, the bricks, and the mortar, of their ordinary 
life. The tract of country which is embraced in these 
volumes is certainly amongst the foremost of those 
' pleasant places ; ' and in the annually increasing 
number of its visitors there must be many too little 
acquainted with its localities not to stand in need 
of information about them, and at the same time of 
minds too inquiring to be satisfied with what they 
can learn from the necessarily limited contents of the 
best of guide books. It has consequently appeared 
to the publishers that they would supply an obvious 
want by placing in the hands of such persons a work 
which they may read at home, as preparatory to or 
recollective of their Western excursions, or carry with 
them in those excursions, as compagnon de voyage, for 
days of detention and evenings of rest. 



Tavistock Abbey Gateway ..... Title 

Tavistock Abbey Walls . 


Tavy Cleave . . 


Parliament Rock 

. IZO 

Stannary Table .... 

. 126 

Druidical Stone Chair . 

. I27 

Map of Great Cursus, etc. 

• 133 

Obelisk and Circle 

. X4X 

British Bridge .... 

• X45 

Sphinx View of Vixen Tor 

. 198 

Whimsical View of Vixen Tor 

. 199 

Rock Basins 

. 202 

Rock Basins on Pew Tor . 

• 2x3 

Rock Basin on Roose Tor 

. 222 

Staple Tor .... 

. 223 

Staple Tor 

. 224 

Tolmen, Staple Tor 

. 225 

Tolmen, Staple Tor 

. 226 

Mis Tor Pan 

. 229 

Tavy Cleave 

. 246 

Trachea of Goosander and Dundiver 

. 3" 

Buckland Inscribed Stone 

. 3 J 8 

Roborough Inscribed Stone 

. 321 

Tavistock Inscribed Stone 

• 3*7 

Inscribed Stones from Tavistock Abbey 


jo, 334. 335 

Cross on Whitchurch Down 

• 403 

Tavistock Abbey Walls . 

• 405 

Betsey Grimbal's Tower . 

• 436 


Allusion to the original Plan of the Work being suggested by the 
Laureate — Sources to be employed in its progress — Climate, situa- 
tion, and natural advantages of the Town — Anecdote of Charles 
II. — Dartmoor Heights, Rivers, and Streams : their character — ■ 
Weather ; humourous lines on the same — Mildness of the Climate ; 
Vegetation; Laurels, &c. — Myrtles: account of some extraordinary 
ones at Warleigh — House Swallows, or Martins — Story of a deep 
Snow : a Gentleman imprisoned by it — Origin of the name of 
Moreton Hampstead — Frozen Swans — A Christening Anecdote of 
the last Generation— Snow in the lap of May— Pulmonary Con- 
sumption unknown on Dartmoor — Snowdrops; Strawberry- plants ; 
Butterflies at unusual Seasons— Blackbirds and Thrushes — Winter 
Weather— Monumental Stones of Romanized British Chiefs- 
Reasons given by the Writer for going at once to Dartmoor 
— Vestiges of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of that Region. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, Devon, Feb. n, 1832. 

EVER since you so kindly suggested that, according 
to a plan which you yourself pointed out, I should 
attempt giving an account of this place and neigh- 
bourhood, I have felt exceedingly desirous to begin 


the task, that, previous to your honouring Tavistock 
with the promised visit, you may know what objects, 
possessing any interest in themselves, or in relation to 
past times, may be found here worthy your attention ; 
and though to do justice to such a work as you have 
suggested to me would require your own powers fully 
to execute it, and conscious as I am how inadequate I 
must be to the undertaking, yet I will attempt as far 
as I am able to meet your wishes, well knowing, by 
my own experience, that you are one of those who 
receive with kindness and indulgence any informa- 
tion that may be gleaned, even from the humblest 

Nor shall I forget that it is your wish I should give 
not only all the history and biography of this place, 
and gather up whatever of "tradition and manners 
can be saved from oblivion," but also (again to quote 
your own words) state "everything about a parish 
that can be made interesting, . . . not omitting some of 
those ' short and simple annals ' of domestic life which 
ought not to be forgotten." Whilst I attempt there- 
fore to give to subjects of historical import the serious 
attention they demand, I shall likewise endeavour to 
vary and lighten those more grave parts of my letters, 
by stating sometimes even trifling things, in the hope 
they may not be altogether void of interest or amuse- 
ment ; for a traveller, though he sets out on a serious 
pursuit, may be pardoned if he now and then stoops 
to pick up a wild flower to amuse his mind for a 
moment as he journeys on his way. In the accounts 
which I purpose transmitting to Keswick, I shall not 
only give you such information as I have myself been 
able to collect, but I shall also, when I come to speak 
of Tavistock Abbey, derive some assistance by occa- 


sional references to a series of papers written by 
my brother, 1 respecting that monastic foundation. 

I have, I believe, before mentioned to you, that at a 
very early period of life Mr. Bray entertained some 
thoughts of writing a history of his native town, 
including descriptive excursions in its vicinity, the 
latter more particularly embracing the western limits 
of Dartmoor. Though, from living retired, and not 
meeting with that encouragement which is so useful 
and so cheering to young authors, he never threw into 
a regular form his purposed work ; yet he made for it 
a considerable body of notes, principally derived from 
his personal observations on the scenes and antiqui- 
ties which excited his interest and attention. Some of 
these papers have now become exceedingly valuable, 
because, unfortunately, many of the memorials of 
past times, which they most minutely describe, have 
of late years been seriously injured, or entirely de- 
stroyed. In my letters therefore I propose, from time 
to time, to transmit to you very copious extracts from 
these papers, as it would be both needless and pre- 
sumptuous in me to attempt giving my own account 
of these vestiges of antiquity and picturesque scenes, 
which have already been so carefully investigated and 
faithfully delineated by my husband. 

Before I enter therefore upon any historical notices 
of Tavistock, I shall say something respecting the 
climate, situation, and natural advantages of our 
neighbourhood, since I am much disposed to think 
that the monks, who knew so well how to choose 
their ground whenever an abbey was in question, 
were induced to fix on this spot on account of its 
many and most desirable localities for the erection of 

1 Alfred John Kempe, F.S.A. 


that noble pile, whose existence gave celebrity to the 
place, and was as a refuge of honour and security to 
the learning, science, and piety of those times, which 
now, with more flippancy than truth, it is so much 
the fashion to rank under the name of the c dark 
ages/ though our own boasted light was caught from 
that flame which they had saved from extinction. 

I have invariably found, with persons who rather 
choose to see the faults and deficiencies than to trace 
the advantages; either of the natural or the moral 
world, that whenever I speak in praise of Devonshire 
they oppose to such commendation the climate; 
and ask me how I can be partial to a place so con- 
stantly exposed to rain. The objection has received 
even the sanction of royalty, since it is traditionally 
averred that whilst Charles II. was in Tavistock (in 
his father's lifetime, during the civil wars) he was so 
annoyed by wet weather, that ever after, if anybody 
remarked it was a fine day, he was wont to declare 
"that, however fine it might be elsewhere, he felt 
quite sure it must be raining at Tavistock." 

That we have a more than due proportion of wet 
I will not deny ; but it is, I believe, a fault common 
to mountainous countries ; and if we have some dis- 
comforts arising from this circumstance, I am con- 
vinced that we owe to it many of our advantages 
also. I have never seen your majestic mountains and 
lakes ; but, judging from a beautiful collection of 
drawings, 2 in my own possession, of Cumberland and 
Westmoreland, I am induced to believe that a very 
great resemblance may be traced between the valleys 
of those fine counties and our own ; and I rather 
think that you also have no want of showers. 

* By the late lamented C. A. Stothard, f.s.a. 


Our Dartmoor heights are frequently distinguished 
by bold and abrupt declivities of a mountainous cha- 
racter ; our verdure is perpetual — and we owe to 
those watery clouds, which so much annoyed the 
lively young prince, not only our rich pastures, but 
the beauty of our numerous rivers and matchless 
mountain streams. Of these I shall have occasion to 
speak hereafter, since, go where we will, they meet us 
in our walks and rides at every turn — and always like 
pleasant friends, whose animation and cheerfulness 
give an additional delight to every surrounding object. 
So much, indeed, do I feel prejudiced in their favour, 
that, after having become for so long a time familiar 
with the tumult and the beauty of our mountain 
rivers, I thought even the Thames itself dull, and 
very far inferior to the Tavy or the Tamar. 

Tavistock owes much of its humidity to the neigh- 
bourhood of Dartmoor; for there the clouds, which, 
owing to the prevalence of the westerly winds in this 
quarter, pass onward from the Atlantic ocean, are 
attracted by the summits of its granite tors, and, 
spreading themselves in every direction, discharge 
their contents not only on the Moor itself, but for 
many miles around its base. Some ingenious person 
(whose name I do not know, or it should find a re- 
cord) has described our weather with much humour in 
the following lines : 

" The west wind always brings wet weather, 
The east wind wet and cold together, 
The south wind surely brings us rain, 
The north wind blows it back again. 

" If the sun in red should set, 
The next day surely will be wet ; 
If the sun should set in grey, 
The next will be a rainy day." 

6 TAVISTOCK. [let. 

Thus you see, my dear sir, poets will sometimes be 
libellers, and help to keep alive a popular prejudice ; 
for let the weather-grumblers say what they will, I 
can aver that our climate, (whose evil reputation is 
taken for granted, without sufficient inquiry into its 
truth,) bad as it may be, has, nevertheless, its re- 
deeming qualities ; and, amongst others, assuredly 
it teaches us to know the value of a good thing when 
we have it, a virtue getting somewhat scarce in these 
times. A real fine, dry, sunshiny day in Tavistock can 
never pass unnoticed. All living things rejoice in it ; 
and the rivers run and leap and sparkle with such 
brilliancy, and offer so much to delight the eye and 
cheer the spirits, that the clouds and the damp and 
the rain that helped to render them so full and flow- 
ing are all forgotten in the gladness of the genial 
hour ; and the animals, and the birds, with the insect 
tribe, (which is here so numerous and varied) play, or 
sing, or flutter about, with a vivacity that would 
almost make one believe they hailed a fine day as 
truly as would King Charles, could he have met with 
such a recreation on the banks of old Tavy. 

The mildness of our climate is so well known, that 
it needs no eulogy of mine ; our laurels and bays are 
the most beautiful evergreens in the world, and never 
fade. Our myrtles, too, flourish in the open air ; and 
we used to boast of some very fine ones that grew in 
our garden. In a hard frost, however, they should be 
carefully matted ; for the severe weather of January, 
1 83 1, killed ours, in consequence of their having been 
neglected in this particular. I cannot give a stronger 
proof of the mildness of our -climate, than by men- 
tioning the following circumstance, which I received 
from my esteemed friend, Mrs. Radcliffe, of Warleigh. 


That lady says, in her letter to me, "Four myrtle 
trees grew in the open air, in the recesses of Warleigh 
House, from twenty-seven to thirty feet in height, the 
branches spreading nearly from the roots. One was 
a foot and a half in circumference at the base, and 
proportionably large to the top. The other three 
were nearly as high, and one of them was two feet in 
circumference near the root. Two of the four were of 
the broad-leaved kind, one small-leaved, and the 
other double-blossomed, the flowers of which might 
be gathered from the windows. They were cut down 
in 1782, from the apprehension of their causing the 
walls of the house to be damp. The late Mr. Rad- 
cliffe, who cut them down, remarks, in a memorandum, 
' I have been the more particular in describing these 
myrtles, as I doubt not they were the largest in 
England. Four-and-twenty faggots of the usual size 
were made of the brushwood. The stem, main 
branches, and principal parts of the roots were in 
weight 452 lbs.' Tea-caddies made from the wood, 
and a block of it, remain in our possession at 

I here also may add (as another proof of the mild- 
ness of our air) the following particulars, which I 
have seen stated in Dr. Moore's catalogue, lately 
published, of the birds of Devon. The Doctor says, 
" Of the house swallow, or martin, I have seen the old 
birds feeding their young on the 20th of September, 
1828, at Warleigh; and have been assured, by a good 
observer, that martins have frequently been seen 
flying during mild weather even in the Christmas 
week, at Plympton. These birds build in the hollows 
of the rocks under Wembury Cliffs, as well as about 
the houses in this neighbourhood." 

8 A DEEP SNOW. [let. 

Our winters are seldom severe ; and when we have 
snow it does not lie long upon the ground. But 
Dartmoor, from its great elevation, is far more liable 
to snow-storms and hard weather than we are, who 
live in a less elevated country. Mr. Bray recollects 
that, when he was a boy, returning from school at 
Christmas, three men with shovels went before the 
carriage as it crossed the Moor, in order to remove 
the snow- heaps which, in particular places, would 
otherwise have rendered it impassable. 

The severest winter that I have heard of within 
the memory of persons now living, occurred about 
twenty years since, when my husband's father met 
with an adventure that was a good deal talked of at 
the time, and found its way into the public prints. 
Had you crossed the Moor to visit us when you were 
last with your friend Mr. Lightfoot, it is not impossible 
you might have had a somewhat similar one, since I 
perfectly well recollect then hearing that, for several 
days, the road from Moreton to Tavistock was exceed- 
ingly difficult of access on account of the drifted 
snow. I here give you Mr. Bray's adventure. 

That gentleman had been at Exeter to take the 
oaths as portreeve of the borough of Tavistock, and 
was returning by the nearest road through Moreton 
Hampstead, situated about twelve miles from Exeter 
and twenty from home. There was a hard frost on 
the ground, and the evening being exceedingly cold, 
Mr. Bray determined to pass the night at a little com- 
fortless inn, (the only one, I believe, which could then 
boast such a title in the place,) and to continue his 
journey across Dartmoor on the following morning. 

He retired to a bed that was anything but one of 
down, and lay shivering all night, wishing for the 


hour that was to convey him to his own home, where 
warmth and comfort might be found at such a season. 
Morning came ; but what was his amazement, when, 
on getting up, the first thing he beheld was the whole 
face of the surrounding country covered by such a 
fall of snow as he had never before witnessed in 
Devon, his native county. How to get home was the 
question ; and, like many other puzzling queries, it 
was more easily started than answered. 

With much eagerness Mr. Bray now consulted 
landlord and drivers on the practicability of so 
desirable an object. After much deliberation, every 
possible expedient being suggested and discussed, 
the thing was found to be impossible, for the roads 
were literally choked up with snow ; not one could be 
found passable, either on horseback or in a carriage ; 
nothing less than a whole regiment of labourers, 
could they have been found, to dig out a passage for 
many miles, could have effected the object ; and even 
then, so thickly did the skies continue to pour down 
their fleecy showers, such efforts might have been 
unavailing. To reach Tavistock was out of the 
question ; and he next inquired if it might be 
practicable to get back to Exeter. But the road ih 
that direction was equally choked up ; and the 
drivers assured him, in their Devonshire phrase, that 
" not only so thick was the fall of snow, but so hard 
was the frost, that the conchables" (meaning icicles, 
probably derived from the conch shell, to which 
indeed they bear some fanciful resemblance) "hung 
from the horses' noses as they stood in the stables." 

There was nothing to be done ; and as people must 
submit to mischances when they cannot run away 
from them, he was condemned to exercise Job's 

io M0RET0N HAMPSTEAD. [let. 

virtue, as many others do, because he could not help 
it. Finding this to be the case, he now began to 
think how he should contrive to pass the time during 
his imprisonment, and the landlady was called up 
and consulted as to what recreations or comforts her 
house could afford to a distressed gentleman under 
such circumstances: the prospect was a dreary one, 
for neither books nor company were to be found. 
Mr. Bray's situation, however, being communicated 
to the clergyman and squire of the place, he became 
indebted to both for the kind attentions with which 
they endeavoured to cheer the time of his detention 
at Moreton Hampstead, that lasted during the space 
of three weeks ; and at length, when he did escape, 
he was obliged to reach his own home by travelling 
through a most circuitous road. 

Thus in regard to him are verified all the con- 
stituents that are said to have given rise (but with 
what etymological accuracy I will not vouch) to the 
name of Moreton Hampstead : i.e. y " a town on the 
Moor instead of home ;" for tradition says that it 
was so denominated from the circumstance of persons 
returning after Exeter market being oftentimes com- 
pelled to pass the night in a few wretched hovels, 
on the spot where the town now stands, in lieu of 
home ; these hovels having originally been colonized 
by certain vagabonds and thieves who broke out of 
Exeter gaol in days of old. 3 

I have heard, likewise, of one or two other instances 
of the effects of hard weather in this neighbourhood, 
which I deem worthy of record in the annals of our 

8 I speak here, of course, only of the country tradition ; for the real 
etymology must be from the Saxon ham stede; i.e. 'the place of the 
house,' &c. 


town, because they are rare. The first relates to 
some favourite swans of the above-named gentle- 
man. These fine birds were in possession of a piece 
of water, which. had formerly been part of the stew- 
ponds of the Abbey. One morning, during a hard 
frost, the swans were seen, like the enchanted inhabi- 
tants described in one of the Arabian tales, who had 
become, all on a sudden, statues of marble. There 
the birds were — white, beautiful, but motionless. On 
approaching near them, they were found to be dead 
and frozen — killed during the night by a sudden and 
severe frost 

I add the following anecdote, not only as a very 
remarkable circumstance in this my letter on frost 
and snows, but also as forming the very first I can 
meet with in the life of my husband, whose claim to 
being ranked among the worthies of Tavistock I 
intend by-and-by to establish, when I come to 
my biographical department. But as I like my 
characters, whenever they can do so, to speak for 
themselves, I shall tell this story in Mr. Bray's own 
words. It may also afford a useful hint to those 
who are fond of observing the gradual changes in the 
manners and customs of polished society ; since our 
modern fine ladies will be somewhat surprised at 
the politeness of the last generation, on occasions of 
emergency. Here is the extract from Mr. Bray's 
letter, addressed to myself when I was in London 
last year. 

"You must allow this is a very cold May, though 
a dry one. Mrs. Sleeman, with whom I dined at 
Whitchurch the other day, told me that it was a 
common saying among her friends, when any one 
remarked that the weather was cold in May> 'But 

12 SNOW IN MAY. [let. 

not so cold as it was at Mr. Bray's christening, when, 
on the first of May, so much snow fell in the even- 
ing, that the gentlemen who were of the party were 
obliged to carry home the ladies in their arms." 

These instances of hard weather are not, however, 
common ; for so celebrated is the mildness of the 
climate in this part of the West, that when the doctors 
can do no more with their consumptive patients, 
they often send them into Devon, and many have 
recovered, whose cases were considered hopeless. I 
have heard it repeatedly asserted, and from a careful 
inquiry believe the assertion to be true, that no per- 
son born and bred on Dartmoor was ever yet known 
to die of pulmonary consumption ; a certain proof 
that, however bleak and rainy that place may be, 
it cannot be unhealthy. This, indeed, is easily 
accounted for, since the land is high, the air pure, 
and the waters are carried off by mountain-torrents 
and streams. 

As additional proofs of the mildness of our climate, 
I may add, also, a few facts that have come under 
my own observation. I have seen in our garden 
(which is very sheltered) snowdrops as early as the 
first week in January. We have some strawberry 
plants, (I think called the Roseberry, but am not 
certain) that grow under the windows of the parlour 
where I am now writing to you ; and so late as the 
14th of last November, did I pluck a few well- 
flavoured strawberries from these plants. The slugs 
devoured some others that were remaining before 
they were half ripe. The Rev. Dr. Jago, of Milton 
Abbot, who is a most intelligent observer of Nature, 
informs me that on the 18th of last December he 
saw in his garden the yellow butterfly, an insect 


seldom seen in midland counties before the month 
of March. 

I confess that, though a great admirer of birds, I 
am not sufficiently acquainted with the feathered 
tribes to understand critically their 'life and con- 
versation/ a circumstance which renders White in 
his Selborne, and the author of the Journal of a 
Naturalist, so truly delighted ; but I believe it is no 
wonder, though it may be as well to mention it, that 
our blackbirds and thrushes sang to us at Christmas 
their carols, so lightly and so sweetly that I, who 
had the concert for nothing, was as well pleased with 
it as an amateur might be to pay the highest price to 
hear Signor Paganini play his violin. 

And now what shall I add more in favour of our 
poor abused climate and its weather ? Shall I tell you 
that I have often, in the 'hanging and drowning' 
month of November, found lively spirits, sunshine, 
and beauty on the banks of the Tavy ? and that in 
December, when the good people of London are lost 
in fog, in 'the dark days before Christmas,' as they 
call them, and substitute gas lights for the sun's 
beams, I have often enjoyed a lovely walk to Crown- 
dale, the birthplace of Sir Francis Drake, and have 
experienced that pleasure which I can describe in no 
language so well as you have done it, in your own 
winter excursion to Walla Crag ; which will be read 
with delight so long as there are hearts alive to 
nature, truth, and feeling. "The soft calm weather 
has a charm of its own ; a stillness and serenity 
unlike any other season, and scarcely less delightful 
than the most genial days of spring. The pleasure 
which it imparts is rather different in kind than 
inferior in degree: it accords as finely with the 


feelings of declining life, as the bursting foliage and 
opening flowers of May with the elastic spirits of 
youth and hope." 4 

I am aware that some of my worthy friends in this 
part of the world, who find consolation in charging 
all their infirmities to the score of the weather, would 
be apt to exclaim against me, and say that I have 
given too favourable an account of that at Tavistock ; 
but I confess that I like, literally speaking, to be 
weatker-wise, and to look on the cheerful side even 
of the most unpromising things ; and if we have so 
much rain, and cannot help it, surely it is as well to 
consider the bounties which flow upon us from the 
skies, as to find nothing in them but sore throats 
and colds, and to fancy that our Devonshire showers 
fall, like the deluge, on no other errand than that of 

And now, my dear Sir, having commenced my 
letters, like a true native of England, with talking 
about nothing but the weather, I shall give you my 
reasons for proposing to take you, in the next, to 
Dartmoor, before I set you down amongst the ruins 
of our Abbey. First, then, Tavistock owes not only 
many of its advantages but its very name to its river, 
which rises on Dartmoor. And though the glory of 
our town in after ages was its stately Abbey, yet as 
the river Tavy has associated its appellation with the 
place from times beyond human record, that fact is a 
sufficient presumption that it possessed in the abo- 
riginal age a certain degree of importance. 

This, indeed, we may consider as confirmed by the 
inscribed monumental stones of Romanized British 
chiefs that have been found in this neighbourhood, 

4 See Colloquies, vol. i. p. 116. 


two of which are still preserved as obelisks in our 
garden. On Dartmoor, where this river rises, we find 
such abundant vestiges of the aboriginal inhabitants 
of this part of the West, that very imperfect would be 
any history of Tavistock which commenced in the 
Saxon era. I know there are those who have been 
sceptical about the Druidical remains on the Moor ; 
but no one should venture to deny the existence of 
what they have never seen, only because they have 
never heard of it. We will begin, therefore, upon 
Dartmoor in the next letter; and I trust you will 
find it not altogether unworthy your attention. 

u_" i.". . *_ijij 



Dartmoor — Origin of its Name — Made into a Forest by King John — 
Henry III. gave it Bounds — Edward III. bestowed it on the Black 
Prince — Its Extent — Granite Tors — Sunshine unfavourable to Moor- 
land Scenery— Various Effects produced by Clouds, Times, and 
Seasons — Rivers, their Character, &c. — Variety and Beauty of 
Mosses and Lichens — Channels worn by the Rivers — Crags and 
Cliffs — Tavy Cleave, its Grandeur — Scenery of the Moor where 
combined with Objects of Veneration, their Founders the Druid 
Priests and Bards — The Moor Barren of Trees — Soil — Various 
Rocks — Pasture for Cattle — Peat — A Hut — The Crook of Devon — 
Peasantry of the Moor, Children, &c, described — Language of the 
People — Snow-storm on the Moor, and the Adventures of a Tra- 
veller, with a Traveller's Tale. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, Feb. 20, 1832. 

Dartmoor, or the Forest of Dartmoor, (as it is still 
called in all grants and deeds of the Duchy of 
Cornwall) is situated in the western limits of the 
county of Devon. It is thirty miles in extent from 
north to' south, and fourteen from east to west. 
Few places, perhaps, are really less known, and 
few are more deserving of attention. It derives 
its name from the river Dart, which rises on the 
Moor, in the midst of a bog at Cranmere Pool. 
This river, which is sometimes written Darant, is 
supposed to be called the Dart from the remarkable 


rapidity of its course. u Dartmoor was," says Risdon, 
"made into a forest by King John, and not only 
confirmed by King Henry III., but had bounds set 
out by him in a charter of perambulation." And 
Edward III. gave it to his son, the Black Prince, 
when he invested him with the title of Duke of 

This vast tract of land, which has been computed 
to contain 100,000 acres, 1 is distinguished by heights 
so lofty and rugged, that they may in some parts be 
termed mountainous ; and though a large portion of 
the high road, over which the traveller passes in 
crossing it, presents an unvaried scene of solitariness 
and desolation, yet to those who pursue their investi- 
gation of the Moor beyond the ordinary and beaten 
track, much will be found to delight the artist, the 
poet, and the antiquary. 

By a mind alive to those strong impressions which 
the vast and the majestic never fail to create, Dart- 
moor will be viewed with a very different feeling 
to that experienced by the common observer, who 
declares it is ' all barren.' To him, no doubt, it is so : 
since, in its bleak heights, he is sensible to nothing 
but the chilling air ; in its lofty tors, still rude as they 
were created, he sees nothing but bare rocks ; and in 
its circles of stones, its cairns, and its fallen cromlechs, 
he finds no associations to give them an interest by 
connecting them with the history and manners of 
ages long passed away. 

The feelings inspired by visiting Dartmoor are of a 
very different order from those experienced on view- 
ing our beautiful and cultivated scenery. The rich 

1 There are said to be 20,000 acres in addition to this, distinguished 
by the name of the Commons. 
vol. l C 

18 SCENERY. . [let. 

pastures, the green hills, the woodland declivities of 
Devon ; its valleys, alive with sparkling streams, and 
skirted by banks whose verdure never fails, studded as 
they are with cottages and farms, convey to the mind 
that sense of pleasure which renders the spirits 
cheerful and buoyant. There is nothing in such 
scenes to raise a thought allied to wonder or to fear ; 
we know that we could dwell among them in security 
and peace ; they delight and soften the mind, but they 
seldom raise in it those deep and impressive reflec- 
tions, which scenes such as Dartmoor affords rarely 
fail to create. 

The peculiar character of the Moor is derived from 
its granite tors; these are mostly found on the 
summits of its numerous heights, and lie piled, mass 
on mass, in horizontal layers. Some portion of dark 
iron-stone is found amongst them. There are also 
slate rocks, and several that are considered by geolo- 
gists to be of volcanic fusion. 

No one who would wish to view the Moor in all its 
grandeur should go there on a very fine or rather 
sunny day ; for it then possesses none of those effects 
produced by that strong opposition of light and 
shadow, which mountain scenery and rugged rocks 
absolutely require to display the bold character of 
their outline, and the picturesque combinations of 
their craggy tops. Indeed, most scenery derives its 
pictorial effect principally from the clouds, and even 
the most beautiful loses half its beauty when viewed 
in unbroken light. I have seen Dartmoor under most 
of the changes produced by sunshine, cloud, or storm. 
The first shows it to disadvantage ; for the mono- 
tony of its barren heights then becomes predominant. 
A gathering storm gives it a character of sublimity ; 

• • 


but a day such as artists call a 'painter's day' is 
that which gives most interest to moorland scenery. 

The pencil is more adapted than the pen to de- 
lineate such scenes as will then be found on the 
Moor. I have often seen it when, as the clouds 
passed slowly on, their shadowy forms would fall 
upon the mountain's breast, and leave the summit 
glittering in the sun with a brilliancy that might 
bear comparison with the transparent hues of the 
richest stained glass. The purple tints of evening 
here convey to the mind visions of more than natural 
beauty ; so ethereally do the distant heights mingle 
themselves with the clouds, and reflect all those 
delicate and subdued tints of sunset, that render the 
dying day so glorious. 

And often have I seen the Moor so chequered 
and broken with light and shade, that it required 
no stretch of the imagination to convert many a 
weather-beaten tor into the towers and ruined walls 
of a feudal castle. Nay, even human forms, gigantic 
in their dimensions, sometimes seemed to start wildly 
up as the lords and natural denizens of this rugged 
wilderness. But who shall picture the effects pro- 
duced by a gathering tempest, when, as the poet of 
such scenes so truly describes, " The cloud of the 
desert comes on, varying in its form with every blast ; 
the valleys are sad around, and fear by turns the 
storm, as darkness is rolled above"? In these mo- 
ments the distant heights are seen in colours of 
the deepest purple ; whilst a solitary ray of the sun 
will sometimes break through the dense masses of 
cloud and vapour, and send forth a stream of light 
that resembles in brilliancy, nor less in duration, the 
flash of ' liquid fire/ 


The rivers, those veins of the earth that, in their 
circulation, give life, health, and vigour to its whole 
frame, here flow in their greatest purity. So constant 
is the humidity produced by the mists and vapours 
which gather on these lofty regions, that they are 
never dry. Sometimes they are found rising, like 
the Dart, in solitude and silence, or springing from 
so small a source that we can scarcely fancy such a 
little rill to be the fountain that sustains the expan- 
sive waters of the Tavy and the Teign. But all 
these rivers, as they pass on, receive the contribu- 
tions of a thousand springs, till, gathering as they 
flow, they become strong, rapid, and powerful in 
their course. Sometimes, bounding over vast masses 
of rock, they exhibit sheets of foam of a dazzling 
whiteness, and frequently form numberless little 
cascades as they fall over the picturesque combina- 
tions of those broken slabs of granite which present, 
growing on their surface, the greatest variety of 
mosses and lichens to be found throughout the whole 
of Devon. 

Often do the waters play upon rocks literally 
covered with moss, that has in it the blackness and 
richness of the finest velvet. In others, the lichen is 
white as the purest marble, or varied with the grada- 
tions of greys, browns, and ochres, of the deepest or 
the palest tints. There is also to be found on the 
Moor a small and beautiful moss of the brightest 
scarlet ; and nothing can be more delicate than the 
fibrous and filigree formation of various other species, 
that can alone be compared to the most minute 
works in chased silver, which they so much resemble 
in colour and in form. 

There are scenes on the Moor, where the rivers 



rush through the narrow channels which they have 
torn asunder at the base of the finest eminences of 
overhanging crag and cliff. Such is Tavy Cleave. 
There, after heavy showers or sudden storms, is heard 
the roar of the Tavy, with a power that renders the 

observer mute whilst he listens to it The waters flow 
wildly forward as their rush is reverberated amidst 
the clefts and caverns of the rocks ; and, as they roll 
their dark and troubled course, they give to the sur- 
rounding scene that character of awe and sublimity 
which so strongly excites the feelings of an imagi- 
native mind ; for there the deepest solitude to be 
found in Nature is broken by the incessant agitation 
of one of the most powerful of her elements. Such 
a contest of waters — of agitation amidst repose— 
. might be compared, by a poet, to a sudden alarm 
of battle amidst a land of peace. 


Indeed, the whole of the river-scenery of Dartmoor 
is full of interest, more especially where it becomes 
combined with those objects of veneration which 
claim as their founders that 'deathless brotherhood/ 
the Druid priests and bards of the most ancient in- 
habitants of the West. Except in a few instances, 
the Moor is totally barren of trees ; but they are not 
wanted; since its vastness, — its granite masses, — its 
sweeping outlines of height or precipice, are best 
suited to that rugged and solemn character which 
is more allied to grandeur and sublimity than to the 
cheerfulness and placidity of a cultivated or wood- 
land landscape. 

The soil of the Moor is of a deep black colour, 
and in most parts it is merely a formation of decayed 
vegetable matter, covering a foundation principally 
of granite; for it is not altogether confined to this 
rock, as occasionally there are others of differing 
formation. Though there are some bogs as well as 
marshes on the Moor, yet the soil affords the finest 
pasture for cattle in summer, and produces a vast 
quantity of peat, that supplies fuel throughout the 
whole of the year; whilst the sod also is useful in 
another way, since a good deal of it is employed 
in the building of huts, generally composed of loose 
stones, peat, and mud, in which the few and scattered 
peasantry of the Moor are content to make their 
dwelling. A hardy and inoffensive race, at no very 
remote period they were looked upon as being little 
better than a set of savages ; and to this day they 
are assuredly a very primitive people. A Dartmoor 
family and hut may be worth noticing ; and a sketch 
of one will, generally speaking, afford a tolerable idea 
of all, though there are exceptions, a few comfortable 


cottages being scattered here and there upon the Forest. 
Imagine a hut, low and irregular, composed of the 
materials above-named, and covered with a straw 
roof, or one not unfrequently formed with green 
rushes, so that at a little distance it cannot be dis- 
tinguished from the ground on which it stands. Near 
the hut there is often seen an out-house, or shed, for 
domestic purposes, or as a shelter for a cart, if the 
master of the tenement is rich enough to boast such 
a convenient relief to his labour in carrying home 
peat from the Moor. 

But this cart is a very rare possession ; since the 
moormen most commonly convey their peat, and all 
things else, on what is called a crook, on the back of a 
poor, patient, and shaggy-looking donkey. You will 
say, 'What is this crook?' and I must answer, that 
I can really hardly tell you ; unless (as did Mr. Bray 
for the late King, when he was Prince of Wales, at 
the request of Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt) I make a draw- 
ing of it, and send it in my letter. Try if you can 
understand such an account as the following, which I 
confess is an attempt to describe what is indescribable. 
Imagine the poor donkey, or a half-starved horse, 
laden first with a huge pack-saddle, never intended 
to bear anything else but a crook; and across this 
saddle is placed that very machine, which is made of 
wood, and so constructed as to keep from falling to 
the ground any load of peat, firewood, &c, that is 
frequently piled up twice as high as the poor beast 
that bears it. At either side of this machine arise 
two crooked pieces of wood, turning outward like the 
inverted tusks of the walrus. These in themselves 
have a somewhat formidable appearance, but more 
so when, after they are unloaded, the thoughtless 


driver, as too frequently happens, places his pitchfork 
in an oblique direction from the saddle to one of the 
shafts of the crook : for thus, whilst the animals 
are advancing at a brisk pace and in no very regular 
order, the prong of it may lacerate the leg of any 
unhappy horseman that meets them, and has not 
time or dexterity to avoid their onset. The crook 
is here known by the name of the Devil's Tooth- 

I may here perhaps be permitted to mention an 
anecdote of the late Mr. Bray, connected with the 
present subject. On ascending a hill in an open 
carriage near Moreton, he overtook a man on foot 
who had the care of several horses, laden with fag- 
gots on crooks. From the steepness of the acclivity, 
he was obliged to guide his horse in a somewhat 
sinuous direction, and he soon found that some or 
other of the crook horses invariably crossed him on 
the road, and considerably impeded his progress. 
This he was satisfied was owing to two words of the 
driver, namely, gee and ree, which he took a malicious 
pleasure in calling out contrary to what he ought — 
making them go to the right when they should have 
gone to the left, and vice versd. Mr. Bray remon- 
strated, but in vain. At length, when he reached the 
brow of the hill, he said to the churl, " You have had 
your frolic, and now I will have mine ;" and, not only 
whipping his own horse but the others also, he put 
them into a full gallop. The consequence was that 
they all threw off their loads one after the other, the 
driver begging him in vain to stop, and receiving no 
other answer than "You have had your frolic, and 
now I have mine." ' 

The manners of the peasantry may in some mea- 


sure be estimated by their dwellings. These are not 
over clean; and though they are surrounded on all 
sides by mountain-streams and rills of the purest 
water, I have generally found, close to their doors, 
as if they delighted in the odour it produced, a pool 
into which are thrown old cabbage-leaves and every 
sort of decaying vegetable matter. 

Out of these huts, as you pass along, you will see 
running to gaze upon you, some half-dozen or more 
of children, not overburdened with clothes, and such 
as they have, like Joseph's coat, being often of many 
colours, from the industrious patching of their good 
mothers. The urchins, no doubt, are not bred up 
as Turks, since frequent ablution makes no part of 
their devotion. Now and then, however, you find 
a clean face, which is as rare as a dry day on Dart- 
moor ; and when this is the case it is generally 
found worth keeping so, as it discloses a fine, fat, 
round pair of cheeks, as red, — I must not say as roses, 
for the simile would be much too delicate for my 
Dartmoor Cupids, — but as red as a piece of beef, 
which is a great deal more like the cheeks in question. 
Legs and arms they have that would suit the infant 
Hercules ; and if they had any mind to play off the 
earliest frolic of that renowned hero, the Moor would 
supply the means ; since snakes and adders it has in 
abundance, and a good thing it would be if they were 
all strangled. 

The hair of these children, which, to borrow the 
language of Ossian, 'plays in the mountain winds/ 
is generally the sole covering of their heads. This 
sometimes is bleached nearly white with the sun ; 
and as you pass along, there they stand and stare at 
you with all their eyes. One token of civilized life 


they invariably give, as they salute you with that 
sort of familiar bob of the head now become a 
refined mode of salutation in fashionable life, so 
widely differing from the bowing and bending of the 
days of Sir Charles Grandison, when no gentleman 
could salute another as he ought to do without 
removing from his head a little three-cornered cocked- 
hat, and when the management of a lady's fan was 
an essential part of her good manners in the dropping 
of a courtesy. 

But I am digressing : to return then to the subject. 
A peasant, born and bred on the Moor, is generally 
found to be a simple character, void of guile, and, as 
Othello says of himself, — 

" Rude in speech, 
And little versed in the set phrase of peace;" 

and to this may be added, very unintelligible to all 
who are not accustomed to the peculiar dialect of the 
Moor. It is not English ; it is not absolutely Devon- 
shire, but a language compounded, I should fancy, 
from all the tongues — Celtic, Saxon, Cornish — and 
in short from any language, that may have been 
spoken in these parts during the last two thousand 
years. I would attempt to give you a few specimens, 
but I cannot possibly guess how I am to spell their 
words so as to convey to you any idea of them. 
I have been assured that they retain some British 
words which resemble the Welsh, and that now and 
then they use the form of the old Saxon plural, for 
they sometimes talk about their houses and their 

Though it certainly is a great libel on the poor 
people of Dartmoor to consider them, as was the case 


about a hundred years ago, to be no better than 
savages, yet no doubt they are still of * manners 
rude/ and somewhat peculiar to themselves ; but as 
an instance, like a fact in law, carries more weight 
with it than a discussion, take therefore the following 
as an illustration. It was related to me but last night 
by my husband, who had it from a gentleman who, I 
conclude, received it from the gentleman to whom 
the circumstance occurred ; and as all these parties 
who related it were, as Glanville says of his relators 
when telling his tales about old witches, "of undoubted 
credit and reputation and not at all credulous," I do 
not know that you will receive it anything the worse 
for coming to you at the fourth hand. Well, then, 
once upon a time, as the old story-books say, there 
was a gentleman who, mounted on a horse, (at the 
breaking up of a very hard and long frost, when the 
roads were only just beginning to be passable) set 
out in order to cross over Dartmoor. Now, though 
the thaw had commenced, yet it had not melted the 
snow-heaps so much as he expected : he got on but 
slowly, and towards the close of day it began to 
freeze again. The shades of night were drawing all 
around him, and the mighty tors, which seemed 
to grow larger and taller as he paced forward, 
gradually became enveloped in vapour and in mist, 
and the traveller with his horse did not know what 
to do. 

To reach Tavistock that night would be impossible, 
as a fresh snow-storm was fast falling in every direc- 
tion, and would add but another impediment to the 
difficulties or dangers of his way. To stay out all 
night on the cold Moor, without shelter or food, must 
be certain death, and where shelter was to be found 


somewhat puzzled the brains of our bewildered 
traveller. In this dilemma he still paced on, and at 
length he saw at a distance a certain dark object but 
partially covered with snow. As he drew nearer his 
heart revived ; and his horse, which seemed to under- 
stand all the hopes and fears of his master, pricked 
up his ears and trotted, or rather slid, on a little faster. 
The discovery which had thus rejoiced the heart of 
man and beast was not only that of the dark object 
in question, but also a thick smoke, which rose like a 
stately column in the frosty air from its roof, and 
convinced him that what he now beheld must be a 

He presently drew nigh and dismounted ; and the 
rap that he gave with the butt-end of his whip upon 
the door, was answered by an old woman opening 
that portal of hope to him and his distresses. He 
entered and beheld a sturdy peasant, that proved to 
be the old woman's son, and who sat smoking his 
pipe over a cheerful and blazing peat fire. The 
traveller's wants were soon made known. An old 
outhouse with a litter of straw accommodated the 
horse, which, it is not unlikely, ate up his bed for 
the want of a better supper ; but this is a point not 
sufficiently known to be asserted. 

Of the affairs of the traveller I can speak with 
more certainty ; and I can state, on the. very best 
authority, that he felt very hungry and wanted a 
bed. Though there was but one besides the old 
woman's in the house, the son, who seemed to be a 
surly fellow, promised to give up his own bed for the 
convenience of the gentleman ; adding that he would 
himself sleep that night in the old settle by the 
chimney-corner. The good dame busied herself in 


preparing such food as the house could afford for 
the stranger's supper; and at length he retired to 
rest. Neither the room nor the bedding were such 
as promised much comfort to a person accustomed 
to the luxuries of polished life ; but as most things 
derive their value from comparison, even so did 
these mean lodgings, for they appeared to him to 
be possessed of all that heart could desire, when he 
reflected how narrowly he had escaped being perhaps 
frozen to death that night on the bleak Moor. Before 
going to rest he had observed in the chamber a large 
oak-chest : it was somewhat curious in form and orna- 
ment, and had the appearance of being of very great 
antiquity. He noticed or made some remarks upon 
it to the old woman, who had lighted him up stairs in 
order to see that all things in his chamber might be 
as comfortable as circumstances would admit for his 
repose. There was something, he thought, shy and 
odd about the manner of the woman when he ob- 
served the chest; and after she was gone he had 
half a mind to take a peep into it. Had he been a 
daughter instead of a son of Eve he would most 
likely have done so ; but as it was he forbore, and 
went to bed as fast as he could. 

He felt cold and miserable ; and who that does so 
can ever hope for a sound or refreshing sleep ? His 
was neither the one nor the other, for the woman 
and the chest haunted him in his dreams; and a 
hollow sound, as if behind his bed's head, suddenly 
startled him out of his first sleep, when a circumstance 
occurred which, like the ominous voice to Macbeth, 
forbade him to sleep more. As he started up in bed, 
the first thing he saw was the old chest that had 
troubled him in his dreams. There it lay in the 


silvery silence of the moonlight, looking cold and 
white, and, connected with his dream, a provoking 
and even alarming object of his curiosity. And then 
he thought of the hollow sound which seemed to call 
him from his repose, and the old woman's odd man- 
ner when he had talked to her about the chest, and 
the reserve of her sturdy son, and, in short, the 
traveller's own imagination supplied a thousand sub- 
jects of terror ; indeed so active did it now become 
in these moments of alarm that it gave a tongue to 
the very silence of the night, and action even to the 
most inanimate things ; for he looked and looked 
again, till he actually fancied the lid of the chest 
began to move slowly up before his eyes ! 

He could endure no more ; but, starting from his 
bed, he rushed forward, grasped the lid with trem- 
bling hands, and raised it up at once. Who shall 
speak his feelings when he beheld what that fatal 
chest now disclosed ? — a human corpse, stiff and cold, 
lay before his sight! So much was he overcome with 
the horror of his feelings, that it was with extreme 
difficulty he could once more reach the bed. 

How he passed the rest of the night he scarcely 
remembered ; but one thought, but one fear, pos- 
sessed and agonized his whole soul. He was in the 
house of murderers ! he was a devoted victim ! there 
was no escape : for where, even if he left the chamber, 
at such an hour, in such a night, where should he find 
shelter, on the vast, frozen, and desolate Moor ? He 
had no arms, he had no means of flight; for if plunder, 
and murder might be designed, he would not be 
suffered to pass out, when the young man (now, in 
his apprehension a common trafficker in the blood 
of the helpless) slept in the only room below, through 


which he must pass if he stirred from where he 

To dwell on the thoughts and feelings of the 
traveller during that night of terror would be an 
endless task ; rather let me hasten to say that it was 
with the utmost thankfulness, and not without some 
surprise, that he found himself alive and undisturbed 
by any midnight assassin, when the sun once more 
arose and threw the cheerful light of day over the 
monotonous desolation of the Moor. Under any 
circumstances, and even in the midst of a desert, 
there is pleasure and animation in the morning ; 
like hope in the young heart, it renders all things 
beautiful. If such are its effects under ordinary 
circumstances, what must it have been to our tra- 
veller, who hailed the renewed day as an assurance 
of renewed safety to his own life ? He determined, 
however, to hasten away ; to pay liberally, but to 
avoid doing or saying anything to awaken sus- 

On descending to the kitchen he found the old 
woman and her son busily employed in preparing no 
other fate for him than that of a goo.d breakfast ; and 
the son, who the night before was probably tired out 
with labour, had now lost what the gentleman fancied 
to have been a very surly humour. He gave his 
guest a country salutation, and hoping 'his honour' 
had found good rest, proceeded to recommend the 
breakfast in the true spirit, though in a rough phrase, 
of honest hospitality ; particularly praising the broiled 
bacon, as "mother was reckoned to have a curious 
hand at salting un in." 

Daylight, civility, and broiled bacon, the traveller 
now found to be most excellent remedies against 


the terrors, both real and otherwise, of his own imagi- 
nation. The fright had disturbed his nerves, but 
the keen air of those high regions, and the savoury 
smell of a fine smoking rasher, were great restoratives. 
And as none but heroes of the old school of romance 
ever live without eating, I must say our gentleman 
gave convincing proofs that he understood very well 
the exercise of the knife and fork. Indeed so much 
did he feel re-assured and elevated by the total ex- 
tinction of all his personal fears, that, just as the 
good woman was broiling him another rasher, he out 
with the secret of the chest, and let them know that 
he had been somewhat surprised by its contents ; 
venturing to ask, in a friendly tone, for an explanation 
of so remarkable a circumstance. 

" Bless your heart, your honour, 'tis nothing at all," 
said the young man, "'tis only fayther!" 

"Father! your father!" cried the traveller, "what 
do you mean ?" 

"Why you see, your honour," replied the peasant, 
"the snaw being so thick, and making the roads so 
cledgey-like, when old fayther died, two weeks agon, 
we couldn't carry un to Tavistock to bury un ; and 
so mother put un in the old box, and salted un in : 
mother 's a fine hand at salting un in." 

Need a word more be said of the traveller and his 
breakfast; for so powerful was the association of 
ideas in a mind as imaginative as that of our gentle- 
man, that he now looked with horror upon the 
smoking rasher, and fancied it nothing less than a 
slice of 'old fayther.' He got up, paid his lodging, 
saddled his horse; and quitting the house, where 
surprise, terror, joy, and disgust had, by turns, so 
powerfully possessed him, he made his way through 



every impediment of snow and storm. And never 
could he afterwards be prevailed upon to touch 
bacon, since it always brought to % mind the painful 
feelings and recollections connected with the adven- 
ture of ' salting un in/ 

vol. 1. 



Wild Animals in ancient times on the Moor — Old custom of Fenwell 
rights — Banditti once common — Road across the Moor ; mode of 
travelling before it was made — Thunder and Lightning not common 
— Tradition of Conjuring Time noticed — Witchcraft still a matter 
of belief — Extremes of Heat and Cold — Shepherd lost; his Dog — 
Two Boys lost in the Snow — Hot Vapour on the Moor, its appear- 
ance — Scepticism respecting the Druidical Remains noticed ; its 
being wholly unsupported by reason, knowledge, or enquiry — The 
Damnonii, their origin with the rest of the ancient Britons ; their 
history, &c. &c. — Camden quoted — Aboriginal Inhabitants of the 
Moor; the Druids, &c. — Orders of the Bards — Poetry — Regal 
power assumed by the Priesthood — Priests and Bards distinct 
Orders — Sacred Groves, &c. — Allegory of Lucian — Tacitus quoted, 
and other authorities respecting the Druids — Their Customs, Laws, 
&c, briefly noticed — Vestiges of British antiquity at Dartmoor — 
Spoliation there carried on — An assault on the Antiquities of the 

Vicarage, Tavistock, February 2$rd, 1832. 

I HAVE somewhere seen it asserted that, in former 
times, Dartmoor was infested by many wild animals ; 
amongst them the wolf and the bear; for the latter 
I have found no authority that would justify me in 
saying such was the case ; but Prince, I seej mentions 
in his Worthies of Devon, that, in the reign of King 
John, the Lord Brewer of Tor Brewer received a 
licence from his sovereign to hunt the fox, the wild 
cat, and the wolf throughout the whole of the county 
of Devon : Dartmoor, no doubt, afforded a fine field 
for such a chase. And I may here notice that there 

let. in.] VENWELL RIGHTS. 35 

is a tradition (mentioned also by Polwhele) amongst 
the people on the borders of the Moor, which they 
state to have derived from their forefathers, "that 
the hill country was inhabited whilst the valleys 
were full of serpents and ravenous beasts." 

There is likewise an old custom, commonly referred 
to as the ' Fenwell rights/ which supports the truth 
of the assertion respecting the wolves: since the 
' Venwell rights/ as the peasantry call them, are 
nothing less than a right claimed by the inhabitants 
of a certain district, of pasturage and turf from the 
fens free of all cost : a privilege handed down to 
them through many generations, as a reward for 
services done by their ancestors in destroying the 
wolves, which, in early times, so much infested the 
forest of Dartmoor. Many stories and traditions are, 
indeed, connected with these wild regions : some of 
which in due season I purpose giving you ; and many 
remarkable customs, now falling fast into decay, were 
there practised ; whose origin, as I shall endeavour to 
show, may be traced back even so far as the earliest 
times of which we have any authentic records, subse- 
quent to the invasion of Britain under Caesar. 

It is nothing wonderful that such an extensive 
waste as the Moor, so full of rocks, caverns, tors, and 
intricate recesses, should have been in all ages the 
chosen haunt of banditti ; and in former days they 
did not fail to avail themselves of its facilities for 
conveying away plunder, or for personal security 
against detection ; whilst the gentry of those times, 
unless in a numerous and armed company, feared to 
cross the Moor, so dangerous was it known to be 
from lawless men, and so reputed to be haunted by 
the spirits and pixies of credulity and superstition. 


There is now an excellent road across the Moor ; 
as I trust you will find when you next travel westward. 
This road was made between sixty and seventy years 
ago ; and till that work was executed it was most 
perilous to the traveller : for if he missed his line of 
direction, or became entangled amidst rocks and 
marshy grounds, or was enveloped in one of those 
frequent mists, here so much to be dreaded, that pre- 
vented him even from seeing the course of the sun 
above his head, he had no alternative but to follow, as 
well as the difficulty of the way would admit, the 
course of a river or stream ; and if this last resource 
failed, he was likely to be lost on the Moor, and in the 
depth of winter to be frozen to death, as many have 
there been. 

The atmosphere of Dartmoor deserves particular 
notice ; it is nearly always humid. The rain, which 
frequently falls almost without intermission for many 
weeks together, is generally small; and resembles 
more a Scotch mist than a shower. Sometimes, how- 
ever, it will pour down in torrents ; but storms at- 
tended with thunder and lightning are not very 
common : and whenever they do occur, one would 
think that the peasantry still retained the superstitious 
awe of the aboriginal inhabitants of the Moor, who 
worshipped thunder as a god under the name of 
Tiranis ; for they call a storm of that description 
conjuring titne, from the thorough persuasion that such 
effects are solely produced by the malice of some 
potent spirit or devils : though, mingling their Pagan 
superstitions with some ideas founded on Christianity, 
(just as their forefathers did when, on their first con- 
version, they worshipped the sun and moon as well as 
the. cross) they make a clergyman to have some con- 


cern in the business: for while 'conjuring time* is 
going on, he, in their opinion, is as hard at work as 
the devils themselves, though in an opposite fashion ; 
since on all such occasions they say, " that somewhere 
or other in the county there 's a parson a laying of a 
spirit all in the Red Sea, by a talking of Latin to it ; 
his clerk after each word saying Amen." 

Indeed, our superstitions here are so numerous, and 
so rooted amongst the poor and the lower classes, 
that I think, before I bring these letters to a close, I 
shall have it in my power not a little to divert you. 
Witchcraft is still devoutly believed in by most of the 
peasantry of Devon ; and the distinctions (for they 
are nice ones) between a witch and a white witch, 
and being bewitched, or only overlooked by a witch, 
crave a very careful discrimination on the part of 
their historian. 

The extremes of cold and heat are felt upon the 
Moor with the utmost intensity. Many a poor creature 
has been there found frozen to death amidst its deso- 
late ravines. I remember having heard of one in- 
stance, that happened many years ago, of a poor 
shepherd who so perished, and was not found till some 
weeks after his death: when his dog, nearly starved, 
(and no one could even conjecture how the faithful 
animal had sustained his life during the interval) was 
discovered wistfully watching near the body of 
his unfortunate master. 

I have also learnt that a few. years since two lads, 
belonging to a farm in the neighbourhood, were sent 
out to look after some strayed sheep on the Moor. 
A heavy fall of snow came on, and the boys not 
returning the farmer grew uneasy, and a search after 
them was commenced without delay. They were 

38 HEAT AND VAPOUR. [let. 

both discovered nearly covered with snow, benumbed 
and in a profound sleep. With one of the poor 
lads, it was already the sleep of death ; but the 
other was removed in this state of insensibility, 
and was at length, with much difficulty, restored to 

On a sultry day, the heat of the Moor is most 
oppressive ; as shade or shelter are rarely to be found. 
At such a time there is not, perhaps, a cloud in the 
sky: the air is perfectly clear and still; yet, even then, 
you have but to look steadily upon the heights and 
tors, and, to your surprise, they will appear in waving 
agitation. So thick, indeed, is the hot vapour which 
on such sultry days is constantly exhaled from the 
Moor, that I can only compare it to the reeking of a 
lime-kiln. The atmosphere is never perhaps other 
than humid, except in such cases, or in a very severe 
frost. I have heard my husband say that the wine 
kept in the cellars of his father's cottage on Dartmoor 
(for the late Mr. Bray built one there, and made large 
plantations near the magnificent river-scenery of the 
Cowsick) acquired a flavour that was truly surprising ; 
and which, in a great degree, was considered to arise 
from the bottles being constantly in a damp state. 
This perpetual moisture upon them was wont to be 
called 'Dartmoor dew;' and all who tasted the wine 
declared it to be the finest flavoured of any they had 
ever drunk. 

Before I enter upon a minute account of the 
British antiquities of Dartmoor, it will, perhaps, be 
advisable, to offer a few remarks which, I trust, may 
assist in throwing some light upon a subject hitherto 
treated with slight notice, and not unfrequently with 
absolute scepticism ; since some, who have never 

ill.] THE DAMNONII. 39 

even investigated these remains upon the Moor, — 
who have never even seen them, — have, notwith- 
standing, taken upon themselves to assert that there 
are none to be found. But assertion is no proof; 
and those who shun the labour, patience, and inquiry, 
which are sometimes necessary in order to arrive at 
truth, must not wonder if they often miss the path 
that leads to it ; but they should at least leave it 
fairly open to others, who are willing to continue the 

It is not my purpose in this letter to enter upon 
any discussion as to who were the first settlers in 
this part of Britain. Wishing to inform myself 
upon the subject, many and opposite opinions have 
I examined ; and the only impression that I received 
from these discussions was, that the writers themselves 
were too much puzzled in the mazes of controversy 
to convince their readers, however much they might 
have been convinced that each, exclusively, enter- 
tained the right opinion. 

It seems to me, therefore, the wisest way to rest 
satisfied that the Damnonii had one common origin 
with the rest of the ancient Britons ; and without 
attempting to penetrate that obscurity which has 
defied for so many ages the ingenuity of the most 
patient investigators, to admit without scepticism 
the commonly-received opinion — namely, that the 
first settlers in this part of the West were, like the 
people of Gaul, descended from the Celtae, a branch 
of the nations from the East. Devonshire, according 
to Camden, was called Duffneynt, 'deep valleys,' by 
the Welsh ; and certainly a more appropriate name 
could never have been chosen for a country so 
peculiarly characterized by the beauty and richness 

40 THE DAMNONII. [let. 

of its valleys, watered as they are by pure and rapid 
rivers or mountain streams. 1 

The Damnonii, perhaps, were less warlike than the 
inhabitants of other kingdoms of the Britons ; since 
they readily submitted to the Roman power, and 
joined in no revolts that were attempted against it : 
a circumstance which, according to some historians, 
was the cause that so little was said about them 
by the Roman writers. The Damnonii were dis- 
tinguished for the numbers and excellence of their 
flocks and herds. It is possible that this very 
circumstance might have rendered them less warlike 
than their neighbours, since the occupations of a 
pastoral life naturally tend to nourish a spirit of 
peace ; whereas the toils, the tumult, and the dangers, 
to which the hunters of those days were constantly 
exposed in the chase, which so justly has been called 
'an image of war/ must, on the contrary, have 
excited and kept alive a bold and restless spirit, 
that delighted in nothing so much as hostile struggles 
and achievements in the field. 

But still more probable, perhaps, is the conjecture 
that the Damnonii, from their long and frequent 
intercourse with the Phoenicians, who traded to their 
coast as well as to that of Cornwall for tin, had be- 
come more civilized than the inhabitants of the other 
kingdoms of Britain. Possibly, indeed, they had learnt 
to know the value of those arts of peace to which a 

1 Camden says, " The hither country of the Damnonii is now called 
Denshire ; by the Cornish Britons Dennan ; by the Welsh Britons 
Duffneynt, — that is, ' deep valleys ; ' because they live everywhere here 
in lowly bottoms ; by the English Saxons, Deumerchine, from whence 
comes the Latin Devonia, and that contracted name, used by the vul- 
gar, Denshire. It was certainly styled Dyfneint by the Welsh. ,, See 
Richards, in voce. 

in.] THE DRUIDS. 4J 

warlike life is so great an enemy. Hence might have 
arisen their more willing submission to their Roman 
conquerors, who were likely to spread yet further 
amongst them the arts and advantages of civilized 
society. This is mere conjecture, but surely it is 
allowable — since there must have been some cause 
which operated powerfully on a whole kingdom to 
make it rest satisfied with being conquered ; and we 
have no evidence, no hint even given by the earliest 
writers, to suspect the courage or manly spirit of the 
aboriginal inhabitants of Devon. 

So celebrated were the British priesthood at the 
time of the invasion of the Romans under Caesar, 
and so far had their fame extended into foreign lands, 
that we know, on the authority of his writings, " such 
of the Gauls as were desirous of being perfectly 
instructed in the mysteries of their religion (which 
was the same as that of the Britons) always made a 
journey into Britain for the express purpose of ac- 
quiring them." And in these kingdoms, as in other 
nations of Celtic origin, it is most likely that those 
who preferred peace to tumult, — who had a thirst 
after the knowledge of their age, — or who liked better 
the ease secured to them by having their wants 
supplied by others than the labour of toiling for 
themselves, became the disciples of the Druids. 
Their groves and cells, appropriated to study and 
instruction, afforded security and shelter ; and there, 
undisturbed by outward circumstances, they could 
drink of that fountain of sacred knowledge which 
had originally poured forth a pure and undefiled 
stream from its spring in the Eastern world, but had 
become turbid and polluted as it rolled through the 
dark groves of Druidical superstition. 

42 THE DRUIDS. [let. 

In these groves, it is believed, they learnt the secret 
of the one true and only God, the immortality of the 
soul, and a future state of rewards and punishments. 
But this was held too excellent for the people, who 
it was deemed required a grosser doctrine, one more 
obvious to the senses. To them, therefore, it was 
not fully disclosed; it was not to be shown in 
all its simple and natural lustre; the doctrines 
which ' came of men ' were added to it ; and these 
being of the earth, like the vapours which arise 
thence, ascended towards Heaven only to obscure 
its light. 2 

The poetry of the ancient British priesthood has 
ever been a subject of the highest interest ; and its 
origin, perhaps, may be referred to the most simple 
cause. Nothing of import was allowed to be written 
down ; nor is there any possible means of knowing 
when symbols, or written characters, were first intro- 
duced among them. To supply this defect, it became 
absolutely necessary that the laws, both civil and 
religious, should be placed in such a form as most 
readily to be committed to memory, and so trans- 
mitted to their posterity. For this purpose no means 

2 There can be little doubt that the Druids, Celts, and Cyclops were 
all of the same origin. The Druids, in fact, were nothing more than 
the priesthood of that colony of the Celtic race established in Britain. 
There cannot be a stronger proof of the truth of this assertion, than 
that all Celtic works, in whatever kingdom they are found, are exactly 
similar. Dr. Clarke, in his delightful Travels, mentions several 
antiquities of Celtic date in Sweden and elsewhere, the same in their 
construction as those found on Dartmoor. He tells us, that old Upsal 
was the place renowned for the worship of the primeval idolatry of 
Sweden ; that a circular range of stones was the spot where its ancient 
kings went through the ceremony of inauguration. "This curious 
circle exists in the plains of Mora, hence it is called Morasteen, the 
word mora strictly answering to our word moor" — Clarke's Travels, 
vol. ix. p. 216. 


could be so effective as those of throwing them into 
the form of apophthegms in verse : the triads are an 

In process of time, however, what at first was had 
recourse to as a matter of necessity, became a sub- 
ject of delight and emulation ; and poetry in all 
probability was cultivated for its own sake : for its 
capability of expressing the passions of the soul, for 
the beauty of its imagery, and the harmony of its 
numbers. Those who had most genius would become 
the best poets ; and giving up their time and attention 
to the art in which they excelled, it is not improbable 
that they were left to the full exercise of their talent, 
and became a distiftct, and at last a secondary, order 
of the Druids. Those graver personages who did 
not thus excel in verse, retained and appropriated 
to themselves the higher order of the priesthood, — 
that of performing the rites and ceremonies of religion, 
sitting in judgment on the criminal, and acting the 
part both of priests and kings : for certain it is that 
though the regal title was still retained by the princes 
of the Celtae, all real power was soon usurped by the 
priests ; and it is not a little remarkable that, both in 
ancient and modern times, this tendency to encroach- 
ment on the part of the priesthood has always been 
observable in those who were followers of a false or 
corrupted religion. Where God, on the contrary, 
prevails in all the purity of his worship, respect, 
submission, and a willing obedience to civil govern- 
ment, for conscience* sake, invariably accompany the 
holy function and its order. 

To return from this digression to the bards : and 
as I am writing from the very land they once 
inhabited, I feel a more than ordinary interest in my 

44 THE BARDS. [let. 

subject, which I trust will plead my apology if I 
somewhat dwell upon it. 

Supposing, then, that at first there was but one 
order of the Druidical priesthood, (and I have found 
nothing to contradict this supposition, which seems 
most natural) and that in such order some of the 
members excelled others in the readiness of throwing 
into verse the laws and customs of their religion and 
government, and that this talent at length was their 
sole occupation, till they became in some measure 
secularized priests, it would naturally follow that in 
process of time the Druids absolutely divided and 
separated themselves into two orders — priests, and 
bards. And amongst the latter another division 
soon, perhaps, arose ; for some of these excelled in 
composing the verses connected with the religion 
and rites of the sacred festivals, whilst others pro- 
bably took more delight in celebrating the actions of 
chiefs and kings, and in singing the fame of their 
heroes who had fallen in battle. Hence came the 
third order. Those who celebrated the praises of 
the gods, of course, stood higher in a land of super- 
stition, than those who merely sung the praises of 
men. The former, therefore, were called hymn- 
makers, or vates ; and the latter, bards. So great 
was the power of this priesthood, whether wholly or 
separately considered, that its members not only 
exercised all rites of a sacred nature, but determined 
upon and excited war, — interfered to command 
peace, — framed the laws and judged the criminal ; 
and also held within their hands the most useful 
as well as the most delusive arts of life. They cured 
the sick, — foretold the events of futurity, — held 
commerce with invisible spirits, — exercised augury 

in.] THE BARDS. 45 

and divination, — knew all the stars of Heaven and 
the productions of the earth ; and were supreme in 
all controversies of a public or of a private nature : 
whilst their wrath against those who displeased them 
vented itself in their terrific sentence of excommuni- 
cation, — a religious sentence which has scarcely a 
parallel in history, if we except that of excommuni- 
cation as it was once enforced by the church of 

In the sacred groves, the disciples learnt the fearful 
rites of human immolation to the deified objects of 
human craft; and, mingling in their study of poetry 
the beauty and innocence of fiction with some of its 
worst features, they also made hymns in praise of the 
seasons, of the birds and the plants, and celebrated 
the seed-time, and the 'golden harvest/ in the 
numbers of their verse. Here, likewise, they learnt 
to frame those war-songs of impassioned eloquence, 
which depicted the hero in such glowing colours that 
they who listened caught the inspiration and rose to 
emulate his deeds; and their kings and chiefs were 
sent forth to the battle "with a soul returned from 
song more terrible to the war." 

The refinements of polished life and education 
were not theirs ; but their imagination, unfettered 
by rules, and impressed from infancy by the wild 
grandeur of the scenes in which they lived, was 
strong and bold as the martial spirit of their race. 
Those arts which teach men to subdue or to hide 
their feelings were unknown ; and, following the 
impulse of Nature, they became masters in the true 
eloquence of the heart. Hence arose the power of 
the bards, in whose very name there is so much of 
poetry, that in our own language we could find 


no other term so suited to express the feathered 
songsters of the air, and therefore were they called 
' the bards of the woods/ 3 

The power of oratory was eminently displayed in 
all their compositions ; and so highly was that art 
esteemed by the Druids of the Celtae, that it gave 
birth to the beautiful allegory told by Lucian, who 
says that, whilst he was in Gaul, he saw Hercules 
represented as a little old man, who was called by 
the people * Ogmius ; ' and that this feeble and 
aged deity appeared in a temple dedicated to his 
worship, drawing towards him a multitude who were 
held by the slightest chain fastened to their ears and 
to his tongue. Lucian, wondering what so strange 
a symbol was intended to denote, begged that it 
might be explained to him ; when he was presently 
told, "that Hercules did not in Gaul, as in Greece, 
betoken strength of body, but, what was of far 
greater power, the force of eloquence; and thus, 
therefore, was he figured by the priests of Gaul." 
Lord Bacon possibly might have had this image in 
his mind when he so emphatically declared that 
'knowledge is power/ 

All the Celtic tribes appear to have studied these 
arts with extraordinary success. The Germans, as 
well as the Gauls and Britons, did so ; for " they 
abound," says Tacitus, " with rude strains of verse, the 
reciters of which are called bards ; and with this bar- 
barous poetry they inflame their minds with ardour in 
the day of action, and prognosticate the event from 
the impression which it happens to make on the 
minds of the soldiers, who grow terrible to the enemy, 

8 Most of the peasantry in Devonshire still pronounce this word 
(birds) bards. 


or despair of success, as the war-song produces an 
animated or a feeble sound." 

The genius for poetry evinced by their bards was 
one of the most remarkable qualities observable 
among the ancient priesthood of Britain : so simple, 
yet so forcible, was the imagery they employed, — so 
feeling the language of their productions, — that, even 
at this day, such of their poems as have come down 
to us can never be read with other than the deepest 
interest, by those in whose bosom there is a responsive 
chord, true to Nature and to feeling. The passions 
which they expressed in these poems were rude but 
manly; their indignation was aimed against their 
foes — against cowardice and treachery ; whilst the 
virtues of courage — of generosity — of tenderness — of 
the 'liberal heart* and 'open hand/ were honoured 
and praised by the Sons of Song; and the brave 
man went forth to battle, strong in the assurance 
that, if he conquered or if he fell, his fame would 
be held sacred, and receive its honours from the harp 
of truth. 

The learning of the British priesthood has been 
frequently spoken of by ancient authors in terms of 
commendation ; and in this particular they have been 
ranked with the nations of the East. Pliny compares 
them to the magi of Persia, and says they were the 
physicians as well as the poets of the country. 
Caesar observes that they had formed systems of 
astronomy and natural philosophy. Twenty years of 
study was the allotted time for rendering a novice 
competent to take upon him the sacred order ; and 
when initiated, the education of the sons of the 
British nobles and kings, the mysteries of religion, 
legislation, and the practice of the various arts that 




were exclusively theirs, must have afforded ample 
scope for the constant exercise of that learning 
which had been acquired with so much diligence 
and labour. 

That they exercised their genius also, on matters 
of speculative philosophy, cannot be doubted ; since 
Strabo has recorded one of their remarkable opinions 
respecting the universe; — "that it was never to be 
destroyed, but to undergo various changes, sometimes 
by the power of fire, at others by that of water." 
And Caesar mentions their disquisitions on the nature 
of the planets, " and of God, in the power he exercised 
in the works of his creation." Many opinions, purely 
speculative, have been broached to account for the 
choice of a circular figure in their temples. Some 
have supposed it was designed to represent that 
eternity which has neither a beginning nor an end. 
But it is not improbable that, as they taught the 
multitude to worship visible objects, the form of their 
temples might have had a reference to those objects ; 
and the heavenly bodies they so much studied (the 
sun and moon, in particular, as the chief amongst 
their visible deities) might have suggested an imita- 
tion of their form in the circular shape of the temples 
dedicated to their worship. 

The use of letters was not unknown to the Druids 
of Britain; for Caesar states "that in all affairs and 
transactions, excepting those of religion and learn- 
ing," (both of which belonged to the mysteries of 
Druidism) "they made use of letters, and that the 
letters which they used were those of the Greek 
alphabet." 4 There was no want, therefore, of that 

4 The Rev. Edward Davies, in his most interesting account of the 
Lots and the Sprig Alphabet of the Druids, has very satisfactorily 


learning which is requisite for the purposes of history, 
had they chosen to leave a written record of the 
public transactions of their country. But in these 
early times the poet was the only historian ; and his 
verses were committed to memory, and were thus 
handed down from age to age. The laws were 
framed and preserved by the same means; so that 
in those days what are now the two most opposite 
things in the literature of modern nations, — law and 
poetry, — went hand in hand ; and the lawyers of the 
ancient Britons were unquestionably the wearers of 
the long blue robes instead of the black ones. 5 

It was, indeed, a favourite practice with the nations 
of antiquity to transmit their laws from generation to 
generation merely by tradition. The ancient Greeks 
did so ; and the Spartans, in particular, allowed none 
to be written down. The Celtae observed the same 
custom ; and Toland mentions that in his time 
there was a vestige of it still to be found in the 
Isle of Man, where many of the laws were tradition- 
ary, and were there known by the name of Breast 

shown that many antiquaries, by an inattentive reading of a particular 
passage in Caesar, adopted the erroneous notion that the British priests 
allowed nothing to be written down ; whereas Caesar only states that 
they allowed their scholars to commit nothing to writing. The 
symbols, or sprigs, chosen from different trees, gave rise to the sprig 
alphabet of Ireland; and Toland, in his very learned work on the 
Druids of that country, established the fact of their having some per- 
manent records, by a reference to the stone memorials of Ireland, 
which in his day, about a century ago, still bore the vestiges of 
Druidical inscriptions. 

• In the Triads the bards are described as wearers of this par- 
ticular dress, which no doubt was adopted to distinguish them from 
the white robed Druids. " Whilst Menu lived, the memorial of bards 
was in request ; whilst he lived the sovereign of the land of heroes, 
it was his custom to bestow benefits and honour and fleet coursers on 
the wearers of the long blue robes" 

VOL. I. E 


Laws. When speaking of the jurisprudence of these 
primitive nations, Tacitus gives a very striking reason 
for the administration of the laws being confined to 
the priesthood. " The power of punishing/ 1 says that 
delightful historian, " is in no other hands : when 
exercised by the priests, it has neither the air of vin- 
dictive justice nor of military execution ; — it is rather 
a religious sentence." "And all the people," says 
Strabo, " entertain the highest opinion of the justice 
of the Druids : to them all judgment, in public and 
private, in civil and criminal cases, is committed." 

We learn also from the classical writers, that the 
Druids had schools or societies in which they taught 
their mysteries, both civil and religious, to their 
disciples; — that such seats of learning were situated 
in forests and groves remote from, or difficult of, 
general access; since secrecy and mystery were the 
first rules of their instructions. Had they taught 
only truth, neither the one nor the other would have 
been required ; since it is only falsehood that seeks 
a veil, and when that is once lifted, she is sure to be 
detected. False religions, or those corrupted by the 
inventions of men, have always observed the same 
kind of mysticism, not only in rude but in polished 
ages also. No one was suffered to lift the sacred 
mantle of the goddess Hertha, except the priest : the 
people were charged to believe in her most terrific 
superstitions, but none could see her and live. 6 

To enlarge on the frauds, the arts of magic, 
soothsaying, and divination, practised by the Druids 
to blind and lead the multitude, would extend much 
beyond the proposed limits of this letter. Should it 
never go farther than Keswick, all that I have said 

6 See Manners of the Germans. Murphy's Tacitus, page 351. 


respecting the ancient priesthood I know would be 
unnecessary. But should these papers so far meet 
your approval as to sanction their hereafter appear- 
ing in print, I must consider what might be useful to 
the mere general reader ; and it is possible that some 
one of that class may not have troubled himself much 
about the early history of that extraordinary priest- 
hood, who once held a power so truly regal in the 
islands of Great Britain. To such this sketch, slight 
as it is, may not be unacceptable, should it only excite 
in them a wish to consult better authorities; and I 
trust, also, it may serve the chief purpose which I 
now have in view — namely, that of raising some 
degree of interest by speaking of the Druids, to lead 
my readers, should they have the opportunity, to an 
examination of those ancient vestiges and structures 
that still remain on the wilds of Dartmoor. Of these 
I shall speak in the subsequent letters ; and in doing 
so I shall endeavour to execute my task with fidelity, 
since not the least motive in prompting me to it is the 
wish I entertain to throw some light on a subject which 
has hitherto been involved in much obscurity; and 
even my labours, like those of the ' little busy bee/ 
may bring something to the hive, though they are 
gathered from the simplest sources around me. 

I may also add, that in pointing out to this neigh- 
bourhood in particular the connection that really 
exists between the remains of British antiquity (so 
widely scattered on the Moor) and the early history 
and manners of the first inhabitants of their country, 
it is to be hoped that a sufficient interest may be 
excited in favour* of those vestiges, to check the 
unfeeling spoliation which has of late been so rapidly 
carried on. When we find on Dartmoor masses of 


granite buried under the earth and resting upon its 
surface, — here lying close to the road, and there 
impeding the culture of its soil — surely it would 
be better to serve the purposes of commerce from 
sources like these, than to despoil (as they are now 
doing) the summits of its eminences, — of those very 
tors that give beauty and majesty to the desolation 
of the Moor. The cairns, — the obelisks — the circles, 
and the poor remains of British huts, might be per- 
mitted to last out their day, and to suffer from no 
other assaults than those which are inevitable — time 
and tempest; and these are enemies that will not 
pass over them in vain. 

Dartmoor has, indeed, been a field to the spoiler ; 
and many of its most interesting memorials have 
been destroyed within the last twenty or thirty 
years ; for during those periods vast walls of stones, 
piled loosely together without cement, and extending 
in every direction for many miles, have been placed 
up as boundaries or enclosures for cattle. This great 
demand for stones caused the workmen to remove 
those which lay, as it were, ready to their hand ; you 
may judge, therefore, what havoc it made with the 
circles, cairns, and cromlechs. Others — such as were 
straight and tall — have been carried off (so the people 
of the Moor tell me) to make rubbing-posts for cattle, 
a rubbing-post being sometimes called 'cow's com- 
fort ' in Devon. 

One assault on the antiquities of Dartmoor was so 
atrocious that it must not here be passed in silence. 
Many years ago, a young man of this place celebrated 
his freedom from his apprenticeship by leading out a 
parcel of young fellows, as wanton and as silly as 
himself, to Dartmoor, for no other purpose than that 


of giving themselves the trouble to do what they 
could in destroying its antiquities. As if, like the 
ancient inhabitants of the Moor, they had befcn wor- 
shippers of the god Hu, — the Bacchus of the Druids, — 
they commenced the day with a libation, for they 
made punch in the rock-basins, and roared and sang 
as madly as any of the old devotees might have done, 
during the riots of a saturnalia in honour of Hu 
himself in the days of his pride. This rite accom- 
plished, and what small remains of wit they might 
have had being fairly driven out by these potent* 
libations, they were ungrateful enough to commence 
their havoc by destroying the very punch-bowl which 
had served them, and soon set about the rest of their 
work. They were a strong and a willing band; so 
that logans were overturned, obelisks knocked down, 
and stones rooted from their circles, till, work as hard 
as they would, they found the Britons had been too 
good architects to have their labours shaken and upset 
in a day. They left off at last for very weariness, 
having accomplished just sufficient mischief to furnish 
the moralizing antiquary who wanders over Dartmoor 
with the reflection their wanton havoc suggests to his 
mind, — that wisdom builds not without time and 
labour ; but that folly overturns in a day that which 
it could not have produced in an age — so much easier 
is it at all times to effect evil than to do good. 7 

7 I am the more induced to dwell on this circumstance, since, even 
in our own day, a naval officer ov%rturned the celebrated Logan in 
Cornwall ; and, much to the credit of government, was compelled to 
set it up again, which he effected with extreme difficulty. 



Dartmoor a region fitted bjf Nature for the rites of Druidism — Tors 
* retain their British nameS — Hessory Tor, Bel Tor, Mis Tor, Ham 
Tor, noticed by Borlase — Bair (or Baird) Down — Wistman's 
Wood — Secrecy and mystery observed by the Druids in their 
Societies — Solitary places and deep Groves — Antique Forest; its 
only vestige — Trunks of Trees found in Bogs and below the sur- 
face — Birds sacred to British superstition still seen on the Moor — 
Black Eagle once found there — Story of the white-breasted Bird of 
Oxenham — Heath Polt, or Moor Blackbird — Birds in flocks — 
Reasons assigned as the probable causes wherefore the Druidical 
Remains on the Moor are of less magnitude than those of other 
and more celebrated Stations — Circles on the Moor ; memorials of 
consecration of the Tors — Architects of Egypt ; Vixen Tor com- 
pared to the Sphinx ; Rock-Basins on its top — Lines from Carrington 
— Morning on the Moor — Herds of Cattle, &c. — Extraordinary Feat 
of a Dartmoor Pony — Insect World — Cuckoo Lambs — Birds of the 
Moor, rare and common. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, Feb. 25, 1832. 

THE earliest records respecting the history of Dart- 
moor must be sought on the Moor itself, and that 
with no small diligence and labour. And as I 
presume no reasonable person would deny that the 
Damnonii, as indeed all the other inhabitants of 
Britain, upheld the priesthood of Druidism, I shall 
proceed to show that, throughout the whole county, 
no place was so fitted to the august rites of their 
superstition, to the solemn courts of their judicature, 
or to the mystery and retirement which they sought 

let. iv.] HILLS OF DARTMOOR. 55 

in the initiation of their disciples, as amid the rugged 
and rock-crowned hills of Dartmoor. 

We know that the Druids not only held it unlaw- 
ful to perform the rites of their religion within 
covered temples, but that they preferred, whenever 
these could be found, eminences and lofty heights for 
that purpose ; as such situations gave them a more 
open and commanding view of those planets which 
they studied as philosophers and worshipped as 

Dartmoor abounds in heights that, in some in- 
stances, assume even a mountainous character; and 
when we find that many of these retain to the present 
hour the very names of those false gods (though cor- 
rupted in their pronunciation, as are the names of 
towns and villages, by the lapse of years and the 
changes in language) to whom altars were raised by 
the priesthood of Britain, surely this circumstance 
alone becomes a strong presumptive evidence that 
the Moor itself was a chosen spot for the ancient 
and idolatrous worship of the Damnonii. I shall here 
give a few of the most prominent examples ; and it 
is not unlikely that any one learned in the old British 
tongues — the Cornish or Welsh — would be able to 
find a significant meaning in the names of various 
other heights and tors on the Moor, that now sound 
so strange and whimsical to unlearned ears like my 

The Britons worshipped the Almighty, or, as he 
was not unfrequently called, the God of Battles, 
under the name of Hesus. On Dartmoor we find a 
height called Hessory Tor. The sun, that universal 
object of adoration even from the earliest times with 
heathen nations, was also held sacred by the Druids, 

56 TOR-HEIGHTS. [let. 

and the noblest altars and temples were dedicated 
to his honour. The sun was adored under various 
names, but none more commonly than that of Belus, 
or Bel ; x and on Dartmoor we have Bel Tor to this 
day. The sun, and also the moon, were sometimes 
worshipped under the names of Mithra or Misor: on 
the Moor we have Mis Tor, a height on whose con- 
secrated rocks there is found so large and perfect a 
rock-basin as to be called by the peasantry Mis Tor 
Pan. Ham, or Ammon, was ranked amongst the 
British deities : on Dartmoor the heathen god still 
possesses his eminence, unchanged in name, as we 
there find Ham Tor to this day ; and my venerable 
and learned friend, the Rev. Mr. Polwhele, a in his • 
History of Devon, refers to the worship of that 
deity all the numerous Hams of this county. 3 We 
have also a spot which you must visit — Baird-down, 
(pronounced Bair-down) which Mr. Bray conjectures 
to mean ' the hill of bards ;' and, opposite to it, Wist- 
man's, or (as he also conjectures) Wiseman's Wood, 
of which I shall presently speak in a very particular 
manner, as embracing some of the most remarkable 
points of Druid antiquity to be found throughout the 
whole range of the Moor. 

We learn from Caesar, and other classical writers, 
that the Druids lived in societies and formed schools, 
in which they taught the mysteries of their learning, 
their religion, and their arts. We find, also, that such 
seats of instruction were situated in forests and groves, 

1 Borlase notices these tors on Dartmoor as still bearing the names of 
Druid gods. 8 Since deceased. 

8 According to Kennet's Glossary, however, hamma is from the 
Saxon ham y a house ; hence hamlet, a collection of houses. It some- 
times meant an enclosure ; hence to hem or surround. This is the sense 
in which it seems chiefly used in Devonshire, as the South-hams, &c . 


remote from or difficult of general access; since secrecy 
and mystery accompanied all they taught. Where, 
therefore, could the priesthood of the Damnonii have 
found, throughout the whole of the West, a place 
more suited to these purposes than Dartmoor ? 

It was a region possessed of every natural advan- 
tage that could be desired in such an age and by such 
a people. It was surrounded and girded by barrier 
rocks, hills, and eminences mountainous in their cha- 
racter. No enemy could approach it with any hostile 
intent, without having to encounter difficulties of an 
almost insurmountable nature ; and such an approach 
would have been announced by the flaming beacons 
of the hundred tors, that would have alarmed and 
called up the country to prepare for defence in every 

Though Dartmoor is now desolate, and where the 
oak once grew there is seen but the lonely thistle, and 
the * feebly-whistling grass/ and its hills are the hills 
of storms, as the torrents rush down their sides, yet 
that it was once, in part at least, richly clothed with 
wood cannot be doubted. The very name, so ancient, 
which it still bears, speaks its original claim to a 
sylvan character — the Forest of Dartmoor; 4 and 
though of this antique forest nothing now remains 
but the wasting remnant of its days, in the ' lonely 
wood of Wistman/ (as Carrington has designated it) 
to show where the groves of the wise men or Druids 
once stood, yet evidence is not wanting to prove what 
it has been : since in bogs and marshes on the Moor, 
near the banks of rivers and streams, sometimes 

4 " Foresta q, d. Feresta, hoc est ferarum static" Vide Du Cange 
in voce, who defines it also "Sallus, Silva, Nemus" evidently inclining 
to the opinion that it should be a woody tract 

58 WISTMAN'S WOOD. [let. 

imbedded twenty feet below the surface of the earth, 
are found immense trunks of the oak and other trees. s 

These rivers and streams, which everywhere abound 
on the Moor, afforded the purest waters ; and many 
a beautiful and bubbling fountain, which sprang from 
the bosom of that earth, once worshipped as a deity 
by the Celtic priesthood, (and to which they ascribed 
the origin of man) became, no doubt, consecrated to 
the mysteries of her circle and her rites. It is not 
improbable that one or two springs of this nature, 
still held in high esteem on the Moor, may owe their 
sacred character to the superstitions of the most 
remote ages : such, perhaps, may be the origin of 
that estimation in which Fice's well is still held ; but 
of this more hereafter. 

The groves of oak, whose "gloom," to use the 
language of Tacitus, " filled the mind with awe, and, 
revered at a distance, might never be approached but 
with the eye of contemplation," were filled with the 
most varied tribes of feathered inhabitants. Some 
of these were of an order sacred in the estimation of 
Druid superstition. The raven was their tenant, whose 
ill-omened appearance is still considered as the har- 
binger of death, and still is as much dreaded by the 
peasantry as it was in the days of ancient augury and 
divination. The black eagle, that native of the Moor, 
long spread her sable wing and made her dwelling 
amidst the heights and the crags of the rocky tors, 
when she had been driven from the valleys and the 
more cultivated lands. She is still said to revisit 
the Moor, like a spirit of other times, who may be 
supposed to linger around the scenes in which she 

5 A very large trunk of an oak tree so found on Dartmoor is now 
preserved in the vicarage gardens of Tavistock. 


once proudly held her sway ; but her nest is nowhere 
to be found. 6 There also the " white-breasted bird of 
Oxenham," 7 so fatal to that house, still appears with 
her bosom pure and unsullied as the Druid's robes, 
and like him raises a cry of augury and evil. Her 
mission done, she is seen no more till she comes 
again as a virgin mourner, complaining before death. 
There, too, may be found the heath poult, or moor 
blackbird, once held sacred : so large is it, and sable 
in colour, that it might at a little distance be mis- 
taken for the black eagle. Her eye, with its lid of 
the brightest scarlet, still glances on the stranger who 
ventures on the recesses of the Moor; and, like a 
watchful genius at the fountain, she is chiefly seen to 
make her haunt near the source of the river Dart. 

No place could have been better adapted for 
observing the flight of birds in Druid augury, than 
the woods and heights of Dartmoor. I have often 
there seen them in flocks winging their way at a 
vast elevation across its hills. Sometimes they would 
congregate together, and with a sudden clamour that 
was startling, rush out from the crags and clefts of 
one of the granite tors, with the utmost velocity. 
At others, they would pause and rest for a moment 

• " I have been told," says Mr. Polwhele in his Devon, " by a gentle- 
man of Tavistock, that, shooting on Dartmoor, he hath several times 
seen the black eagle there, though he could never discover its nest." 

7 "There is a family," says Prince, speaking of Oxenham, in his 
Worthies of Devon, " of considerable standing of this name at South 
Tawton, n«ar Oakhampton in this county ; of which is this strange and 
wonderful thing recorded. That at the deaths of any of them, a bird, 
with a white breast, is seen for a while fluttering about their beds, and 
then suddenly to vanish away. Mr. James Howell tells us that, in a 
lapidary's shop in London, he saw a large marble-stone, to be sent into 
Devonshire, with an inscription, ' That John Oxenham, Mary, his sister, 
James, his son, and Elizabeth, his mother, had each the appearance of 
such a bird fluttering about their beds as they were dying. 

> » 


among the rocks, or skim along the rivers and foaming 
streams, and dip their wings and rise again with 
restless rapidity. 

The vast quantity of rock, the masses of granite 
which are everywhere strewn throughout the Moor, 
the tors that crowned the summits of every hill, must 
have afforded such facilities for the purpose of their 
altars, circles, obelisks, cromlechs, and logans, that no 
part of this kingdom had, perhaps, a more celebrated 
station of Druidism than Dartmoor : not even Mona, 
Classerness, nor the plains of Abury and Salisbury. 
But they who, like the Druids themselves, have been 
accustomed to pay an almost idolatrous worship to 
that primitive and most noble structure Stonehenge, 
may here exclaim — " If this be true, how is it that 
you have no such memorial of equal magnitude on 

To this I answer, Stonehenge (like Carnac in 
Brittany, which I have cursorily visited and de- 
scribed 8 ) stands on a plain : it required, therefore, 
such a structure to give to the ceremonies of Drui- 
dical worship that awful and imposing effect which 
Tacitus so repeatedly implies to have formed the 
chief character of their religious mysteries. On the 
plains of Salisbury Nature had done nothing for the 
grandeur of Druidism, and art did all. On Dartmoor 
the priests of the Britons appropriated the tors them- 
selves as temples, erected by the hand of Nature, and 
with such majesty that their circles were only 
memorials of their consecration : so that what in 
level countries became the most imposing object, 
was here considered as a matter of comparative 

8 In Letters written during a Tour through Normandy and Brittany 
in 1818. 


indifference. In such scenes a Stonehenge would 
have dwindled in comparison with the granite tors 
into perfect insignificance ; it would have been as a 
pyramid at the foot of Snowdon. The architects of 
Egypt, like the Druids of Salisbury Plain, had a 
level country to contend with, and they gave to it 
the glory of mountains, as far as art may be said to 
imitate Nature in the effect of her most stupendous 

Whoever attentively examines the tors and vestiges 
of antiquity on Dartmoor will soon be convinced that 
art was but very slightly employed on the masses of 
granite which crown the heights that were consecrated 
to the divinities of British idolatry. In Vixen Tor, 
that Sphinx of the Moor, the mass was so completely 
formed by Nature to suit their desires, that three 
basins, chiselled on the very summit of this lofty and 
insulated rock, are the only mark left of its having 
been selected for any one of the numerous rites of 
Druidical superstition. 

On Dartmoor, then, we may fairly conclude that 
whatever was most advantageous to the hierarchy of 
the ancient Britons was most amply to be found ; 
and in my next letter I shall proceed to a more 
minute examination of what use was made of such 
' advantages, by describing what still remains to 
interest us as records of the being, the history, and 
the religious rites of the priests of the Damnonii. 
Nor can I conclude these remarks without observing 
that on the Moor the Druid moved in the region of 
the vast and the sublime : the rocks, the winter 
torrent, the distant and expanded ocean, the works 
of the great God of Nature, in their simplest and in 
their most imposing character, were all before his 


view; and often must he have witnessed, in the 
strife of elements, that scene so beautifully described 
by our poet, who has celebrated the Moor with a 
feeling true to Nature, and with a boldness and 
vigour suited to the grandeur of the subject he 

" Fierce, frequent^ sudden is the moorland storm ; 
And oft, deep sheltered in the stream-fed vales, 
The swain beholds upon the lessening tor 
The heavens descend in gloom, till, mass on mass 
Accumulated, all the mighty womb 
Of vapour bursts tremendous. Loud resounds 
The torrent rain, and down the guttered slopes 
Rush the resistless waters. Then the leap 
Of headlong cataract is heard, and roar 
Of rivers struggling o'er their granite beds — 
Nor these alone — the giant tempest passed, 
A thousand brooks their liquid voices raise 
Melodiously, and through the smiling land 
Rejoicing roll.* 

And here, ere I say farewell, let me pause a moment 
to express my regret for that indifference with which 
many persons, in this part of England, look on Dart- 
moor. Carrington found in it a subject for a poem 
that has ranked his lamented name amongst the first 
of our British bards. And though all are not poets, 
nor have the feelings that are allied to poetry, yet all 
might find some pleasure, would they but learn to 
value it, — a pleasure pure as it is powerful, — in the 
heights and valleys of the lonely Moor. 

A morning's walk there in the spring or the sum- 
mer is attended with a freshness, from the bracing 
temperature of the air, which gives cheerfulness to 
the mind and content to the heart. A thousand 
circumstances in Nature everywhere lie around to 


interest him who views her with a kindly and a 
feeling eye. The mists which hang about the tors are 
seen gradually dispersing; and the tors themselves, 
as we watch them, seem to put on a thousand forms, 
such as fancy suggests to delight the mind in which 
she dwells. The cattle are seen around, grazing on 
the verdant pastures, studded with myriad drops of 
dew. As we look on them, they call to mind some 
of the bronze works of antiquity that so nobly 
represented those creatures : for in symmetry of form 
and limb, as well as in richness of colour, the cattle of 
Devon are models of beauty in their kind. The wild 
horses and colts, with their unshorn and flowing tails 
and manes, recall also to our recollection the forms of 
antique sculpture. To observe them in action as they 
bound, race, or play together, in the very joy of their 
freedom, affords a spectacle of animal delight that is 
replete with interest. The horse thus seen in his 
natural state, before he is ridden by man, becomes a 
perfect study for a painter. 9 And the poor ass, that 
useful and patient drudge, — an animal, like the goat, 
of the most picturesque nature, — is seen quietly 
browsing on the grass, waiting the hour of labour in 
the service of his master. 

The instinct of the lambs and the care of their 

9 The following circumstance, respecting a pony that was one of a 
very fine breed the late Mr. Bray had on the Moor, is worth noticing 
here. It is also mentioned by Mr. Burt in Carrington's poem. The 
late Ca^fc Cotgrave, who was engaged in some duty at the French 
prison, Ima seen a pony he wished to detach from the herd at Bair- 
down. In the endeavour to effect his object, the animal was driven on 
some blocks of granite by the side of a tor. A horseman instantly 
rode up in order to catch it, when, to the astonishment of all who 
witnessed the feat from below, the pony fairly and completely leapt 
over horse and rider, and escaped with a fleetness that set at defiance 
all further pursuit. 


mothers have often interested me, as I have observed 
the perseverance with which one of the latter would 
range around the flock till she found her own off- 
spring, to give it the earliest meal of her milk. And 
the bleating of some other poor little straggler, as it 
would stand still and call upon its dam, was so like 
the cry of infancy, that it could not fail to raise a 
feeling of pity for so helpless and harmless an 
animal. 1 

The rivers and streams, as they run in the morning 
light, have something so exhilarating that it glads the 
heart and the eye to look on their lively and sparkling 
waters as they flow, 

" Making sweet music with the enamelled stones." 

And then the fresh air of the Moor, which renders the 
very step light as we inhale it, and the clear blue 
skies, and the varying and changing clouds, now 
white, now roseate, or opening and closing before the 
view, are all objects of the highest enjoyment. And 
the insect world, that starts at once, as it were, into its 
ephemeral being, — a world of which none in Nature 
presents a greater variety, — all useful, all governed by 
a beautiful economy in their order and their kind, — 
can never be seen with indifference by those who 
have once given such subjects even but a slight 
attention. We are pleased to see around us, reviving 
into life, even our most familiar acquaintance, the 
common house-fly; and the very insects th^: love 
rivers and haunt pools add some degree of animation 
to the hour. No place will afford a more interesting 

1 Early lambs are never reared on Dartmoor, on account of the cold- 
ness of the air. Those that come late, however, are considered to do 
well there. These are called cuckoo lambs, as being contemporary with 
the appearance of that bird. 

iv.] INSECT WORLD. 65 

field for the entomologist than the hills and vales of 
Dartmoor. There too we meet in spring, upon a 
sunny day, the pale yellow butterfly, usually the 
tenant of the garden and the flower-bed ; and it is 
often seen, like infancy by the side of age, sporting on 
the front of some old grey rock, or settling on the 
wild thyme, or on the golden furze, — as its wings 
vibrate with a quickness that will sometimes dazzle 
the sight. 

And how beautiful is 'the song of earliest birds/ 
the thrush that never tires, or the lark that sings 
first and soars highest, like youth who thinks the 
world a region of pleasure to be compassed on the 
wing of hope. Dartmoor is rich in birds, and those 
often of an uncommon kind. 2 The pretty little 
wheatear, or English ortolan, builds its nest amongst 
the old rocks, whose colour it so resembles in the 
black and grey of its wings, that you sometimes do 
not observe it perched upon the clefts till you hear its 
small cry. There too has been seen the goshawk, so 
rare in Devon ; and the kite, that is now seldom found 
in its peaceful and inhabited valleys, still prowls like 
a bandit about the Moor, as if he came to make his 
prey with impunity amidst its unfrequented wilds. 
And the honey-buzzard, rare as it is in this county, 
has there, nevertheless, been marked chasing the 
dragon-fly, as that beautiful insect endeavoured to 
evade its enemy, and would 

" Dart like a fairy javelin by." 
And the ring-ousel finds its dwelling in the hollows 
and cavities of the rocks, and the poor little reed-wren 
makes them her home ; and the robin, that favourite of 

8 Dr. Moore, of Plymouth, has lately published a catalogue of all 
the birds that frequent the different parts of the county of Devon. 

VOL. I. F 


old and young, there need fear no. pilfering youngster 
— since so much is this pretty bird the familiar friend 
of children in our neighbourhood, that the boys will 
pelt any one of their companions who may steal but 
an egg from 'poor Cock Robin's* nest The snow- 
bunting and the stormy petrel are sometimes found 
on these hills ; and even the bittern will make her 
cry amidst their desolation. But these are birds of a 
melancholy season ; since the first we know by its 
name comes in the dreary time, and the petrel, 
suffering from the storm that gives her a claim upon 
our commiseration, has been driven to land, and 
found dead upon the Moor. 

But on a spring or a summer morning no birds are 
seen but those which give delight. They are not 
vain monitors ; for all their occupations are divided 
between rejoicing and industry. They sing in the 
gladness and thankfulness of their existence, or they 
labour to find food and shelter for their young. To 
them nothing is indifferent within the range of their 
capacity. The straw or the fallen leaf, — the tuft of 
wool that hangs on the briar as it was torn from the 
sheep, — a very hair, is treasured and placed to the 
account of what is useful in the internal structure 
exhibited by the little architect in its nest. 

To watch the economy of birds, — to mark the 
enjoyment of the animal world, — to view with an 
eye of interest and contemplation the fields with 
'verdure clad/ and every opening blossom bursting 
into beauty and life, are enjoyments that instruct 
and delight youth, middle, and old age. They supply 
us with a source of innocent employment, to which 
none need be dead but those who wilfully become so, 
by keeping their eyes closed before that book of 


Nature which is everywhere spread around, that we 
should read in it those characters of an Almighty 
hand that lead the mind to wonder at and adore his 
goodness, and the heart to acknowledge and to feel 
his power, as a Father, who in his 'wisdom has 
created ' and preserves them all. 



Bair-down supposed to have been the Hill of Bards — Inscriptions on 
the Rocks : how cut — House on the Eminence — Beautiful Ravine : 
Bridge over the River Cowsick — Trees planted in the Ravine by 
the late Mr. Bray — Remarks on the Etymology of Bair-down, 
and Wistman's Wood — Observations on the English Distich — 
Merlin's Cave in the Rocks — Wand or Rod — Rural Inscriptions 
on the Granite. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, March 2, 1832. 

HAVING given you in my former letters a general 
account of Dartmoor, I shall now proceed to a more 
particular description of its localities, and in doing so 
I shall principally avail myself of the Journals of my 
husband, written at different intervals so far back as 
the year 1802 down to the present period. I purpose 
beginning with Bair-down : first, because it was en- 
closed by the late worthy and respected Mr. Bray, 
who there built a house, and was fond of retiring to 
it during the summer and autumn ; and secondly, 
because, as you will presently find, my husband 
considers Bair-down to have been ' the hill of bards.' 
In addition to my former allusions on this subject, I 
may here state, that should it be thought he is in- 
correct in his view of the original claims of the hiM 
to a bardic character, he has now at least fully 
established them, by the inscriptions on the granite 

let. v.] BAIR-DOWN. 69 

with which he has partly covered several of those 
enormous masses that arise, with so much magni- 
ficence, in the midst of the river Cowsick, that flows 
at the foot of the eminence on which the house was 
built by his father. 

Some of these inscriptions are now so moss-grown, 
so hidden with lichen, or so worn with the weather 
and the winter torrents, that a stranger, unless he 
examined the rocks at a particular hour of the day 
when the sun is favourable, would not be very likely 
to discover them. Others, though composed by him 
for the same purpose, were never inscribed, on ac- 
count of the time and labour it required to cut them 
in the granite. The mode he adopted with those 
which have been done was as follows : he used to 
paint the inscriptions himself, in large characters, 
upon the rocks, and then employ a labourer with 
what is here called a pick (pickaxe) to work them 
out. Some of these inscriptions were in triads, and 
engraved on the rocks in the bardic character of the 
sprig alphabet, as it is given by the Rev. Edward 
Davies in his Celtic Remains. 

As a further motive to the task, he wished to 
indulge his fancy by peopling, as it were, a wilder- 
ness with his favourite authors to enliven its solitude: 
and when I shall presently tell you the number of 
poems he wrote at that early period of his life, (which, 
a few only being ever printed, still remain in manu- 
script 1 ) as he delighted to cultivate the poetical 
visions of a youthful fancy on the Moor, you will 
not wonder that he should have attempted, with 
somewhat the same sentiments as those so beauti- 

1 A selection of these was published after the decease of the Author 
by Messrs. Longman, in 1859. 


fully described by Shakspere, to give a tongue to 

the very rocks, so that there might be found, even in 

the midst of a desert, 

" Books in the running brooks, 
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing." 

The eminence of Bair-down, on which stands the 
cottage erected by his late father, is situated about 
eight miles from Tavistock, near the Moreton road. 
It is extensive, and to one approaching it from this 
quarter is seen surrounded on the north and east 
by lofty tors. In the latter direction it declines 
gently but deeply, where flows the Dart ; whilst the 
descent is more sudden at the south, and on entering 
the grounds from the turnpike road, presents itself 
most unexpectedly as a ravine, its sides picturesquely 
clothed with wood, through which, amid innumerable 
rocks, rushes the foaming Cowsick. As you continue 
to advance, the path winds by the side of this ravine, 
which gradually opens and presents a scene of the 
most peculiar and romantic kind, — a scene so beau- 
tiful that, though I have often viewed it, it always 
affords me that delight which is generally supposed 
to be the result of novel impressions. The Cowsick 
rushes down this ravine over the noblest masses of 
granite, broken into a thousand fantastic forms, and 
scattered in every direction. A picturesque bridge 
of a single, lofty arch, crosses the river at that spot 
where the fall is most striking and precipitous : after 
heavy rains it there presents a combination of water- 
falls that are of the greatest beauty. In the midst 
of the stream, at some short distance from the bridge, 
the river branches off in two rocky channels, as it is 
there interrupted by a little island, on which stands a 
thick grove of trees. On either side the banks of 


this steep ravine are seen a number of trees of various 
kinds, all in the most flourishing state, on account of 
their being so sheltered from the bleak winds of the 

Such is Bair-down. All the trees were planted by 
my husband's father, who built the house and the 
bridge, and who raised the loose stone walls as 
enclosures for cattle for many miles in extent ; and, 
in short, who literally expended a fortune on the 
improvements and enclosures on this estate. In the 
barn behind the cottage, for two years, divine service 
was performed every Sunday, by one of the Prince 
of Wales's chaplains, under a dispensation from the 
Bishop of Exeter. This estate is now let by Mr. 
Bray to a respectable farmer named Hannaford, (of 
whom you will hear more in these letters) for a very 
trifling rent. I now take my leave of you ; for all 
that here follows is from the pen of my husband. 
The only share I have in it is that of transcribing it, 
verbatim, from his old Journals. 


By Edward A. Bray, 1802. 

"The most obvious idea as to the origin of this name 
is, that it either has a reference to Bear, the substan- 
tive, or Bare, the adjective. But though a vague 
rumour, which can hardly be styled tradition, states 
that it was so called because it was the spot where 
the last bear was destroyed on the Moor; I should 
rather think that some recent poetical spirit has thus 
given 'to an airy nothing, a local habitation and a 
name/ And the second supposition can hardly be 
supported, when we come to consider that this part 

72 WISTMAN'S WOOD. [let. 

of the Moor, so far from being bare, or void of 
vegetation, is perhaps nearly the best land in the 
whole of this extensive desert. Rejecting, therefore, 
those ideas as equally unfounded, we must derive our 
information from other sources ; and fortunately these 
sources are immediately at hand. On the opposite 
side of the river Dart, which bounds my father's 
property, stands Wistman's Wood — the only remain- 
ing vestige of the ancient forest. Wist is the preterit 
and participle of wis, from pissan, Saxon, wissen, 
German, to know ; and is not at present altogether 
obsolete, as it is still used in Scripture in this sense. 
From the same etymon comes also wise: 'sapient; 
judging rightly ; having much knowledge ' — (John- 
son's Diet) Thus Wissman's or Wistman's Wood 
signifies Silva Sapientium? 'the wood of wisemen.' 
The Druids and bards were unquestionably the 
philosophers or wisemen of the Britons. We may 
naturally conjecture, therefore, that this was their 
principal or their last place of assembly; and the 
many stone circles on Bair-down immediately oppo- 
site the wood confirm the opinion. I am not ignorant 
that Wistman's Wood is sometimes called also Welsh- 
maris Wood : the one name may easily be the 
corruption of the other; but if not, and they are 
distinct appellations, the conclusion will be pretty 
much the same. 

"When the ancient inhabitants of this country were 
subjugated by the Romans, some retired into Wales, 
and others into Cornwall. Cornwall was considered 

* See Stuart's View of Society, p. 337, to prove that the Wites 
were the same as the Sapientes; and LL. Anglo-Saxon ap Wilkins 
there referred to. See also a curious supplication del County de 
Devonshire to Edward III. Coke's 4. Institute, p. 232. Barons 
and Autres Sages % &c 

t.] WISEMEN. 73 

as part of Wales, and, from its form, was called 
Cornu, Walliae, 'the horn of Wales.' Indeed it is 
frequently styled West Wales by the British writers. 
(See Rees's Cyclop) The inhabitants, therefore, of 
Cornwall, as well as Wales, might be called Welsh. 
And in this supposition I am confirmed by Borlase, 
who states that the Saxons 'imposed the name of 
Weales on the Britons driven by them west of the 
rivers Severn and Dee, calling their country, in the 
Latin tongue, Wallia.' It is not improbable that 
in the centre of Dartmoor, a colony might still be 
permitted to exist, either from their insignificance or 
their insulated situation ; and that this colony might 
be called by the other inhabitants Welshmen, from 
their resemblance to the inhabitants of Cornwall and 

" No colony can be supposed to have existed among 
the ancient Britons without having their Druids or 
wisemen, who, indeed, had the whole of the spiritual, 
and the greater part of the temporal, power in their 
hands. Bair-down then, from its commanding situa- 
tion, and its gently-ascending acclivities, on which 
were spread their sacred circles, must without doubt 
have been frequently resorted to by them. 

"Dun, now altered to down, signifies a hill. We 
may naturally imagine, therefore, that it was origin- 
ally called Baird, or Bard-dun, Bardorum-mons, 'the 
hill of bards.' And the etymology of the word bard 
will confirm this opinion : it is derived by changing 
u into b y which is by no means uncommon, par- 
ticularly as the German w is pronounced like our v, 
from waird, whence comes the modern English word. 
This, like the Greek eiro?, signified not only verbum, 
a word, but carmen, a song. The bards then were so 


called from being singers, or persons who celebrated 
in songs the achievements of warriors and great men. 
What, therefore, was originally pronounced Baird- 
down may easily be supposed, for the sake of 
euphony, to be reduced to Bair-down. 

"P.S. On further inquiry I find that some derive 
bard from bar, a fury. The analogy between this 
and the furor poeticus. of the Romans must strike 
every one. The plural in Welsh is beirdd. Taliesin 
is called Pen Beirdd, i.e. 'the prince of the bards! 
Thus Beirdd-dun is literally the ' hill of the bards/ 

" The Druids were divided into vacerri, beirdd, and 
eubages. The second order, or bards, subsisted for 
ages after the destruction of the others, and indeed 
were not totally extirpated by the bloody proscription 
of Edward. 

"Rural Inscriptions on the Rocks of Bair-Down. 

" In stating the reasons by which I was actuated in 
the composition of these inscriptions, and in confining 
myself to their present form, it will be necessary to 
mention the ideas that suggested themselves to me 
upon the subject. At first the idea occurred to me, 
that nothing more would be required than to select 
passages from my favourite authors, and I actually 
laid some Latin and Italian poets under contribution 
for that very purpose; but I found that the long 
hexameter lines of Virgil could not easily be brought 
within the compass of a rude granite stone, where 
capitals only could be used, and those too of no 
small dimensions ; that many of the most appro- 
priate passages were of some length; and that, were 
I to have followed the example of Procrustes, how- 


ever they might still be discovered to be disjecti 
membra poetce, the sight would have given more 
disgust than satisfaction to the eye of the spectator. 
A consideration of no small importance likewise 
occurred ; namely, that though I traced them myself 
beforehand upon the surface, it was not probable 
that the person I employed to cut them into the 
solid granite would be so attentive as not to commit 
blunders, especially as his labours were only pro- 
ceeded with during my absence. It was obvious that 
fewer mistakes would probably occur in English, of 
which, at any rate, he may be presumed not to be so 
entirely ignorant as he certainly is of the former, 
being only a common mason. In addition to which 
inscriptions of this kind have been so frequently 
repeated that I could not hope to attract attention 
by any novelty of application. On further reflection, 
however, I made a great alteration in my original 
design, and, considering poetical inscriptions as of 
subordinate consequence, resolved to consecrate par- 
ticular rocks to particular persons. As the name 
alone of Theocritus or of Virgil could not fail to 
communicate to a poetical mind a train of pleasing 
associations, I did nothing more, at first, than inscribe 
upon a few rocks 'To Theocritus/ 'To Virgil/ &c. 
This of itself, in so wild and solitary a scene as Dart- 
moor, was not without its effect : it seemed to people 
the desert; at any rate one might exclaim, 'The 
hand of man has been here!* I then conceived 
that it would give more animation to the scene by 
adding something either addressed to, or supposed 
to be uttered by, these fancied genii or divinities of 
the rock ; and accordingly, for the sake of conciseness 
as well as a trial of skill, composed them in couplets. 


I certainly should have found it much easier to have 
expanded them into quatrains, or any indefinite 
number of lines ; but I chose to impose this task 
upon myself for other reasons as well as those above 
stated, which, however, I cannot help thinking are 

" I entertain a higher opinion of the English lan- 
guage than to think it so deficient in conciseness as 
to be unable to adapt itself to the form of a clistich. 
I am rather inclined to think that the moral distichs 
of Cato might be very adequately translated in the 
same form. D'Avanzati's translation of Tacitus has 
acquired great reputation for its conciseness ; but, for 
the sake of curiosity, I have proved that it may be 
more concisely translated into English than Italian. 
I may possibly have failed, however, in showing its 
superior excellence in this particular by my inscrip- 
tions, but these I have not the vanity to imagine as 
just criteria of its powers. 

"In the island, to which I would appropriate the 
name of the Isle of Mona, I propose to put none but 
Druidical inscriptions, principally in the form of 
triads. These shall be in bardic characters, as they 
are represented in Davies's Celtic Researches. By 
way of amusement to those who may wish to decipher 
them, I shall mark this simple alphabet on a white 
rod, and call it the virgula divinatoria> or the diviner's 
wand, which is still so celebrated among the miners, 
so that literally few, if any, will be able to understand 
it without the assistance of this magic rod. It will 
add to the effect to call a recess, or kind of grotto, 
that is contiguous to this island, Merlin's Cave, and 
on a rock, which may be considered as his tomb, to 
inscribe — 

v.] MERLIN'S WAND. 77 

" These mystic letters would you know, 
Take Merlin's wand that lies below. 

It will be right, perhaps, to have two wands, of equal 
length ; one to be a kind of key to the other ; one to 
be marked with the bardic letters, and the other at 
corresponding distances with the English alphabet, 
thus — 

AHMCkiKWMwf y w wr. 


Inscription the First. 
To my Father. 

Still lived the Druids, who the oak revered, 
(For many an oak thy peaceful hands have reared) 
The hill of bards had echoed with thy name, 
Than warrior deeds more worthy songs of fame. 

No. II. 
To the Same. 

Who gilds the earth with grain can bolder claim 
The highest guerdon from the hands of Fame, 
Than he who stains the martial field with blood, 
And calls from widowed eyes the bitter flood. 

No. III. 
To the Same. 

This tender sapling, planted now by thee, 
Oh ! may it spread a fair umbrageous tree ; 
Whilst seated at thy side I tune my lays, 
And sing beneath its shade a father's praise. ' 

Druidical and other Inscriptions. 

No. I. 

Ye Druid train these sacred rocks revere, 
These sacred rocks to minstrel spirits dear ! 
If pure your lips, if void your breast of sin, 
They 11 hear your prayers, and answer from within. 


No. II. 

Read only thou these artless rhymes 
Whom Fancy leads to other times ; 
Nor think an hour misspent to trace 
The customs of a former race : 
For know, in every age, that man 
Fulfils great Nature's general plan. 

No. III. 

Oh ! thou imbued with Celtic lore, 
Send back thy soul to days of yore, 
When kings descended from their thrones 
To bow before the sacred stones, 
And Druids from the aged oak 
The will of Heaven prophetic spoke. 

Inscriptions on the Rocks of Bair-Down, in the River 

Cowsick, &c. 

To Merlin. 

Born of no earthly sire, thy magic wand 
Brought Samm's hanging stones from Erin's land : 
To me, weak mortal ! no such power is known, 
And yet to speak I teach the sacred stone. 3 

Inscriptions in Triads, &c. 

No. I. 

Though worshipped oft by many a different name, 

God is but one, and ever is the same, 

To him at last we go, from whom at first we came. 

1 It is pretended that Merlin was the son of an incubus and a vestal. 
He is said, by the power of magic, to have brought from Ireland those 
immense masses of granite that form Stonehenge, which means, accord- 
ing to some antiquaries, hanging-stones; or stones hanged, hung, or 
connected together; or as the poet says, 'poised by magic* The 
hinge of a door may probably be referred to the same origin. Merlin's 
original name was Ambrosius. It is thought that Amesbury, or 
Ambresbury, near Stonehenge, took its name from Ambrosius Aurelius. 
a British Prince. May not the credulous vulgar have confounded him 
with Merlinus Ambrosius, and thus ascribed this probably Druidical 
monument to the supernatural powers of this celebrated enchanter? 


No. II. 

Know, though the body moulder in the tomb, 

That body shall the living soul resume, 

And share of bliss or woe the just eternal doom. 

No. III. 

Proud man ! consider thou art nought but dust ; 

To Heaven resign thy will, be good, be just, 

And for thy due reward to Heaven with patience trust 

No. IV. 

Their earthly baseness to remove, 
Souls must repeated changes prove, 
Prepared for endless bliss above. 

No. V. 

Adore great Hu, 4 the god of peace ; 
Bid war and all its woes to cease ; 
So may our flocks and fruits increase. 

No. VI. 

To Odin 5 bow with trembling fear, 
The terrible, the God severe : 
Whose bolt, of desolating fire, 
Warns not, but wreaks his vengeful ire ; 
Who roars amid the bloody fight ; 
Recalls the foot that turns for flight ; 
Who bids the victor's banners fly ; 
And names the name of those to die. 

Inscriptions to the Bards alluded to by Gray. 

To Cadwallo. 

Mute is thy magic strain, 

' That hushed the stormy main.' 

To Hod. 

Thy harp in strains sublime expressed 
The dictates of thy ' high-born ' breast. 

4 Hu Gadran, ' the peaceful ploughman.' One of the names of the 
Deity among the Celtee. 

5 Odin, the deity of the Goths and other Northern nations. 


To Urien. 

No more, awakened from thy ' craggy bed/ 
Thy rage-inspiring songs the foe shall dread. 

To Llewellyn. 

Mid war's sad frowns were smiles oft wont to play 
Whilst poured thy harp the ' soft ' enamoured ' lay.' 

To Modred. 

Thy ' magic song/ thine incantations dread, 

* Made huge Plinlimmon bow his cloud-topt head/ 

Additional Triads. 

No. I. 

From Mela. 

Ut forent ad bella meliores ; 
iEternas esse animas, 
Vitamque alteram ad manes. 

The soul 's immortal — then be brave, 
Nor seek thy coward life to save ; 
But hail the life beyond the grave. 

Another from Diogenes Laertius. 

246ew Oe6vs, 

Kal fJLrjdev kolkov 5pq.y, 

koX dvdpeiav &<TK€iv. 

Adore the Gods with daily prayer, 
Each deed of evil shun with care, 
And learn with fortitude to bear. 


Alluding to the Druids' belief in the Metempsychosis. 6 

Here all things change to all — what dies, 

Again with varied life shall rise : 

He sole unchanged who rules the skies. 

6 Caesar speaking of the Druids (Lib. 6, Sec. 13) says, — In primis 
hoc volant persuadere, non interire animas, sed ab alias post mortem 
transire ad alias : atque hoc maxime ad virtutem excitari putant, metu 
mortis neglecto. 


Alluding to the Druidical Sprig Alphabet. 

Hast thou the knowledge of the trees ? 
Press then this spot with votive knees, 
And join the sacred mysteries. 

A Triad. 

Founded on the Maxims of the Druids in Rapin's History pf England, 

vol. i. p. 6, Introduction. 

None must be taught but in the sacred grove : 

All things originate from Heaven above ; 

And man's immortal soul a future state shall prove. 

To my Father. 

Inscribed on a rock in the River Cowsick, the banks of which he had planted. 

Ye Naiads ! venerate the swain 
Who joined the Dryads to your train. 

Inscription for an Island in the River Cowsick, to which 
I have given the name of Mona. 

Ye tuneful birds ! ye Druids of the grove ! 
Who sing not strains of blood, but lays of love, 
To whom this Isle, a little Mona 's given — 
Ne'er from the sacred spot shall ye be driven. 

Inscription for a Rock on the lower Island. 

Who love, though e'en through desert wilds they stray, 
Find in their hearts companions of the way. 

For the same Island. 

To thee, O Solitude, we owe 

Man's greatest bliss — ourselves to know. 

Inscription on a Rock in the Woods near the Cowsick. 

The wretch, to heal his wounded mind, 
A friend in solitude will find ; 
And when the Blest her influence tries, 
Hell learn his blessings more to prize. 

vol. i. G 


For a Rock on Bair-down. 

Sweet Poesy ! fair Fancy's child ! 
Thy smiles imparadise the wild. 

Inscription for an Island in the Cowsick, to which I 


When erst Phoenicians crossed the trackless main 
For Britain's secret shore, in quest of gain, 
This desert wild supplied the valued ore, 
And Vectis' Isle received the treasured store. 

For a Rock in WistmanVWood. 

The wreck of ages, these rude oaks revere ; 

The Druid, Wisdom, sought a refuge here 

When Rome's fell eagles drenched with blood the ground, 

And taught her sons her mystic rites profound. 

For the Same. 

These rugged rocks, last barrier to the skies, 
Smoked with the Druids' secret sacrifice ; 
Alas ! blind man, to hope with human blood 
To please a God, all merciful, all good. 

Inscription for a Rock on Bair-down. 

Mute is the hill of bards, where erst the choir, 
In solemn cadence, struck the sacred wire : 
Yet oft, methinks, in spells of fancy bound, 
As swells the breeze, I hear their harps resound. 

Inscription near the Island. 

Learning's proud sons ! think not the Celtic race, 
Once deemed so rude, your origin disgrace : 
Know that to them, who counted ages o'er, 
The Greeks and Romans owe their learned lore. 

{Celtic Res : passim.) 

Inscription for a Rock near the Cowsick. 

Here, though now reft of trees, from many an oak 
To Druid ears prophetic spirits spoke ; 
And, may I trust the muse's sacred strain? 
Reviving groves shall speak of fate again. 





Near the Same. 

Ye minstrel spirits ! when I strike the lyre, 
Oh, hover round, and fill me with your fire ! 

To Boadicea. 

Roused by the Druids' songs, mid fields of blood, 
Thine arm the conquerors of the world withstood. 

To Caractacus. 

Imperial Rome, that ruled from pole to pole, 
Could never tame, proud chief, thy mighty soul. 

To Taliesin. 

How boiled his blood ! how thrilled the warrior's veins ! 
When roused to vengeance by thy patriot strains. 

To the Cowsick. 

To thee, fair Naiad of the crystal flood, 
I offer not the costly victim's blood ; 
But as I quaff thy tide at sultry noon, 
I bless thee for the cool reviving boon. 

To Msop. 

E'en solitude has social charms for thee, 
Who talk'st with beast, or fish, or bird, or tree. 

To Thomson. 

To Nature's votaries shall thy name be dear, 
Long as the seasons lead the changeful year. 

To Shakspere. 

To thee, blest bard, man's veriest heart was known, 
Whate'er his lot — a cottage or a throne. 

To Southey, for a rock in Wistman's Wood. 

Free as thy Madoc mid the western waves, 

Here refuged Britons swore they 'd ne'er be slaves. 

To Savage. 

What ! though thy mother could her son disown, 
The pitying Muses nursed thee as their own. 7 

7 See Johnson's Life of Savage, and his poem of the ' Bastard.' 

84 INSCRIPTIONS. [let. v. 

To Spenser. 

The shepherd, taught by thine instructive rhyme, 
Learns from thy calendar to husband time. 

To Shenstone. 

Nurtured by taste, thy lyre by Nature strung, 
Thy hands created what thy fancy sung. 

To Browne. 

I bless thee that our native Tavy*s praise 
Thou 'st woven mid Britannia's pastoral lays. 

To Burns. 

Long as the moon shall shed her sacred light, 

Thy strain, sweet bard, shall cheer the cotter's night. 

I have now given you a very numerous collection 
of Mr. Bray's inscriptions for the rocks of Bair-down 
and the river Cowsick; yet, numerous as they are, 
there remain not less than one hundred and fifteen in 
distichs, which would have been too many for inser- 
tion in these letters. In the next I purpose taking 
you to Wistman's Wood, where I trust you will find 
some objects worthy your attention. 



Wistman's Wood — Considered as the posterity of a Druid Grove — The 
antiquity of such Groves, as places of resort of Eastern Idolaters — 
Examples found in the Bible — Customs of the ancient Idolaters — 
Horses devoted by them to the Sun — Customs of the ancient 
Germans and Gauls in their Superstitions — Celtic Priesthood — 
Record preserved in the Office of the Duchy of Cornwall respecting 
Wistman's Wood — Its high antiquity further considered — Hill of 
Bards and Wood of the Wisemen contiguous — Account of the 
Wood and its localities in their present state — Adders plentiful on 
the Moor — Superstition respecting them — How to charm them with 
the Ashen Wand — Pliny's notice of the Magic of Britain — Taliesin's 
account of the Wand — The Caduceus, its origin — Toland's account 
of ancient Amulets — Custom of charming Adders: a vestige of 
British Superstition — Lucan's notice of Caesar on entering a Druid 
Grove — Lines on Wistman's Wood — The Farmer's legend about 
the old Grove — The Oaks of Wistman's Wood — Ages of Trees, 
&c. — Silver Coins and Human Hair found in a cairn on the Moor 
— British Monuments destroyed — Crockern Tor — Circles of Stone 
numerous — Wistman's Wood probably the last retreat of the Druids 
and Bards of Damnonia. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, March 6, 1832. 

I NOW take up my pen to give you some account of 
Wistman's Wood, which, if you will allow the ex- 
pression, we have always considered as the posterity 
of a Druid grove ; and I cannot help thinking that 
when I shall have stated the various circumstances 
which induce us to come to this conclusion, you will 
admit it is not wholly without probability or reason. 


Every one at all conversant with history is aware 
that no community of the British priesthood was with- 
out its sacred grove, a custom derived from the most 
remote countries and ages, for the Bible informs us 
that such groves were the resort of Eastern idolatry 
in its most fearful rites, and that such were generally 
found on eminences or 'high places/ We read in the 
Second Book of Kings, that when "the children of 
Israel did secretly those things that were not right 
against the Lord their God, they built them high 
places in all their cities," they "set them up images 
and groves on every high hill and under every green 
tree, and there they burnt incense in all the high 
places." And again we find these corrupt Israelites 
" left all the commandments of the Lord their God, 
and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of 
Heaven, and served Baal." 

The Druid priesthood did the same in after ages ; 
and their groves, their altars and 'high places/ are 
still remaining, though in the last vestige of their 
decay, as witnesses of their idolatry, in the extensive 
wilderness of Dartmoor. How striking a resemblance 
does the following passage of Scripture bear to the 
superstitions and practices of Celtic nations ! Speak- 
ing of Ahab, it is recorded that " he reared* altars for 
Baal, and made a grove ; and worshipped all the host 
of Heaven and served them ;" and that "he made his 
son pass through fire, and observed times and used 
enchantments with familiar spirits and wizards." And 
when Josiah conquered these infidels, it is written 
that he destroyed the "groves and vessels made for 
Baal, — for the sun, the moon, and the planets, and 
put down the idolatrous priests who had burnt the 
incense to them on high places ;" and that "he defiled 


Tophet, which is in the valley of the children of 
Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his 
daughter to pass through the fire to Moloch. And 
he took away the horses that the kings of Judah 
had given to the sun." 1 How much does this super- 
stition (of the horses given to Baal, or Bel, the god of 
the Sun) agree with a passage in Tacitus, where, 
speaking of the manners of the ancient Germans, he 
says, " a number of milk-white steeds, unprofaned by 
mortal labour, are constantly maintained at the public 
expense, and placed to pasture in the religious groves ! 
When occasion requires, they are harnessed to a 
sacred chariot ; and the priest, accompanied by the 
king, or chief of the state, attends to watch the 
motions and the neighings of the horses. No other 
mode of augury is received with such implicit faith by 
the people, the nobility, and the priesthood. The 
horses upon these solemn occasions are supposed to 
be the organs of the gods, and the priests their 
favoured interpreters." 

Caesar and Diodorus both speak of the Druid 
groves of superstition ; and Tacitus does the same 
in regard to the Germans, who, as well as the Gauls 
and Britons, were followers of the Celtic idolatry. 
"Their deities," says that admirable historian, "are 
not immured in temples, nor represented under any 
kind of resemblance to the human form. To do 
either were, in their opinion, to derogate from the 
majesty of supreme beings. Woods and groves are 
the sacred depositaries, and the spots consecrated to 
their pious uses : they give to that sacred recess the 

1 In the same chapter we read, that Josiah "slew all the priests of . 
the high places that were there upon the altars, and burnt men's bones 
upon them." 


name of the divinity that fills the place." So nume- 
rous are the allusions of the classical writers to the 
groves of Druidism, that it is not necessary to recite 
examples; since no fact is more clearly established 
than that no society of the Celtic priesthood was 
without its grove, for the purposes of instruction, 
retirement, augury, and numerous other religious 
rites. The custom of cutting the misletoe from the 
oaks of these sanctuaries is too generally known to 
need any particular notice; since the commonly- 
received idea of a Druid, with those who scarcely 
read at all, presents itself to the mind under the 
figure of an old man with a long beard, who cuts 
misletoe from the oaks with a golden hook. 

In order to ascertain how far the conjecture is 
founded on probability that Wistman's Wood, on 
Dartmoor, is the posterity of a Druid grove, we must 
consider its known antiquity 2 — its localities — the 
extraordinary appearance and actual state of the 
dwarf and venerable trees, that still flourish in decay 
amidst the rudest storms, and in one of the rudest 
spots throughout the whole of the Moor; — the pro- 
bable age of these oaks, and how far one tree would 
be likely to succeed another; — and though last, not 
least, their relative situation with the oth^r British 
antiquities, by which they are in fact surrounded, and 
that close at hand. Mr. Bray's derivation of the 
name of Wistman's Wood, given in the last letter, 

8 In the office of the Duchy of Cornwall there is preserved a 
Perambulation of the Moor, of very high antiquity, by which it appears 
that Wistman's Wood was nearly in the same state as at present at 
the time of the Norman Conquest. This is a very curious fact, and 
it should be borne in mind by the reader, as it goes far to establish the 
opinion the writer has ventured to give on this most interesting vestige 
of the Forest. 


must also be borne in mind ; since this most curious 
antiquity in the vegetable world is very near Bair- 
down : so that if he is right in his derivation in both 
instances, the hill of bards and the wood of the 
wisemen, or Druids, were contiguous. 

Wistman's Wood, then, lies on the side of a steep 
hill, opposite Bair-down ; at its base runs the western 
branch of the river Dart. Let me fancy for a moment 
that you are with us — (a dream I one day hope to see 
realized) — join our excursion, and, whilst attempting 
to visit this eminence, are helping me along from 
Bair-down; a friendly arm being a very necessary 
support to a female who ventures on the expedition ; 
which to one like myself is a task of no small labour, 
though replete with interest. 

The farmer, Hannaford, is our guide; and after 
having passed up and down hill, and over one of the 
boundary-walls, or enclosures, some of the stones of 
which he removes (and builds up again) to afford us 
an easier way of clambering over it, we have man- 
aged, by jumping from rock to rock, in part to ford 
the river Dart, the waters not being so high as to 
prevent our doing so, till at length we come to one 
place so puzzling — so difficult — that our Herculean 
guide can see no other way of getting me over but 
that of taking me up, and putting me across with as 
much ease and good will as Gulliver would have 
displayed in assisting the Queen of Lilliput in cross- 
ing a puddle. At last we are landed on the opposite 
bank, and there lies Wistman's Wood, rocks and all, 
before us; — an inviting object to curiosity and specu- 
lation with those who love to indulge in visions of 
the ' olden time.' 

The summit of the eminence cannot be seen, on 


account of its steep ascent ; and huge piles, mass on 
mass of granite blocks, seem to rise and grow before 
us as we pace upward towards the wood. Every 
step requires wary walking, since to stumble amidst 
such rocks, holes, and hollows might be attended 
with an accident that would prevent all further in- 
vestigation; and the farmer says, "Tis a wisht old 
place, sure enough, and full of adders as can be." 
This last communication somewhat cools my en- 
thusiasm about Druid groves ; but the farmer offers 
and supplies a speedy remedy, — one also of most 
mystical origin, and not a little heathenish, being 
derived from the very Druids upon whose haunts 
we are about to intrude ; for he transfers to my 
hand the ashen bough or sprig that he was carrying 
in his own, and initiates me on the spot into the 
pagan rites of charming adders, to render them 
harmless as the poorest worm that crawls upon the 
earth. He tells me that the moment I see an adder 
I have nothing to do but to draw a circle with an 
ash rod round it, and that the creature will never go 
out of it; nay, if a fire were kindled in the ring,, it 
would rather go into the fire itself than pass the 
circle. He believes, also, that an animal bitten by 
this venomous reptile may be cured by having a 
kind of collar woven of ash-twigs suspended round 
his neck. He likewise mentions having, a year or 
two ago, killed a very large adder that had been 
tamed by the above charm, when he took fifteen 
young ones from its belly. 

To return to our expedition : these superstitions 
(as we pause a moment to take breath before we 
continue the rough ascent) become the subject of our 
conversation ; and we cannot help remarking how 


appropriate they are to the place of Druid antiquity, 
since the one may be traced to the serpent's egg, and 
the other, very probably, to the virgtda divinatoria, or 
diviner's rod. Indeed all magicians and sorcerers are 
described, from the earliest ages, as being armed with 
a wand or rod : we read of this, too, in the Bible, 
where the rods of the magicians were turned into 
serpents, and the rod of Moses, so transformed, 
swallowed them up. That the Druids professed 
magical arts cannot be doubted, since Pliny calls that 
priesthood "the magi of the Gauls and Britons;" 
and of this island he says, "Magic is now so much 
practised in Britain, and with so many similar rites, 
that we cannot but come to the conclusion that they 
immediately derived it from the magi of the Persians." 
The bard Taliesin thus speaks of the magic wand of 
the Druids : " Were I to compose the strain, were I 
to sing, magic spells would spring, like those produced 
by the circle and wand of Twrch Trwyth." I think 
I have somewhere read, that the sophists of India 
also pretended to possess the power of charming 
venomous reptiles ; and there can be little doubt the 
art was long practised in Britain, since it has been 
supposed that the caduceus seen in the hand of 
Mercury had its origin in the British Isles, where 
the Druids exercised the arts of charming serpents. 
And Toland, who, in his very learned work, has 
brought to light so much curious information respect- 
ing Druidism, informs us that in the Lowlands of 
Scotland many glass amulets were found, which the 
people of that country called 'adder stanes.' The 
Druids, we know, carried magic amulets about their 
persons ; and it may also be remarked, that the 
adder itself was held as a symbol of the Helio-arkite 


god, and therefore of his priest, who took his station 
on the sacred mount, or in the no less sacred diluvian 
lake. 3 

Now all these things considered induce me to 
believe, that as Dartmoor must from the earliest 
times have been most prolific in vipers, the mode of 
charming them with an ashen wand, still retained by 
the peasantry, is nothing less than a vestige of the 
customs of Druid antiquity. 

Having paused a moment to consider the origin of 
the ashen wand and the adders, we once more turn 
our attention to Wistman's Wood ; and near its com- 
mencement, on the south side, we find a spring of the 
clearest and the purest water, which Hannaford, the 
farmer, tells us never fails. It bursts from beneath 
a rock, and, like most of the blessings of Providence 
(whether we avail ourselves of them or not) it still 
pours its limpid fountain in fruitful abundance, amidst 
the wildness and desolation of the spot, and nourishes 
a thousand beautiful mosses and flowers, that render 
the Moor, though a desert in one sense of the word, 
a rich wilderness for Flora and her train. 

We now view with surprise the oaks before us : 
and such is their singular appearance, that, without 
stopping to reason upon the subject, we are all dis- 
posed to think that they are really no other than the 

8 The serpent's egg, which the Druids pretended to catch in the air, 
in order to impose upon the multitude, was held as a mystery. They 
wore this egg round their necks ; no one in Britain except themselves 
knew the secret of manufacturing this kind of glass. "The priests," 
says Davies, "carried about them certain trinkets of vitrified matter, 
and this custom had a view to Arkite mysteries." The great Druid 
temple at Carnac (which I visited in early life) is, I am informed, now 
ascertained to be in the form of a serpent. Might it not, therefore, 
have had reference to the mysteries of the diluvian Helio-arkite god ? 
Carnac stands very near the sea-shore. 

vi.] A DRUID GROVE. 93 

last remnant of a Druid grove; or rather the last 
vestige of its posterity. You, being a poet, (for I 
must still be allowed to fancy you by my side) think 
of Lucan ; and repeat the passage in his PAarsa/ia, 
where he describes the impression made on the 
Roman soldiery under Caesar, on their entering 
beneath the gloom and solemnity of a Druid grove ; 
their horror, their silent dread to touch with the axe 
that old and honoured wood : till Caesar, snatching it 
from their trembling hands, aimed the first blow and 
violated the oaks so long held sacred to a dark and 
sanguinary superstition. 

When you have finished your quotation from 
Lucan, I tell you that Rowe, who was his translator 
into English verse, is said to have been born in 
Lamerton, only three miles from Tavistock ; of which 
pretty little village his father was the incumbent. 
And Mr. Bray, who has long been an enthusiast 
about Dartmoor and the Druids, is ready to follow 
your quotation by repeating the noble lines from 
Mason's Caractacus descriptive of a Druid grove; 
whilst I, determined to have my share of poetical 
feeling, recite the sonnet, written by my husband 
when very young : 

To Wistman's Wood. 

Sole relics of the wreath that crowned the Moor ! 
A thousand tempests (bravely though withstood, 
Whilst, sheltered in your caves, the wolf's dire brood 

Scared the wild echoes with their hideous roar) 

Have bent your aged heads, now scathed and hoar, 
And in Dart's wizard stream your leaves have strewed, 
Since Druid priests your sacred rocks imbrued 

With victims offered to their gods of gore. 


In lonely grandeur, your firm looks recall 
What history teaches from her classic page ; 

How Rome's proud senate on the hordes of Gaul 
Indignant frowned, and stayed their brutal rage. 

Yet Time's rude hand shall speed, like theirs, your fall, 
That selfsame hand so long that spared your age. 

Whilst these poetical feelings prompt each to 
some suitable expression of them, the farmer, a 
matter-of-fact man, looks as if he thought us all "a 
little mazed," as they say in Devonshire, " about the 
wisht old trees;" and it being now his turn to say 
something, he gives us his own legend about them ; 
which is that according to tradition, or as he ex- 
presses it, "as the people do tell, that the giants 
once were masters of all the hill country, and had 
great forests, and set up their cairns (he calls them 
by their right name) and their great stones and 
circles, and all they old ancient things, about the 

As we advance we again contemplate with wonder 
and interest the extraordinary object before us. It 
is altogether unlike anything else. There is a steep 
height, to toil up which I compare to going up the 
side of a pyramid. 

The ascent to Wistman's Wood is strewn all over 
with immense masses of granite, that lie scattered 
in every direction. The soil about these rocks is 
very scanty, and appears, the same as in many other 
parts of the Moor, to be composed of decayed vege- 
table matter. In the midst of these gigantic blocks, 
growing among them, or starting, as it were, from 
their interstices, arises wildly, and here and there 
widely scattered, a grove of dwarf oak trees. Their 
situation, exposed to the bleak winds, which rush 


past the side of the declivity on which they grow, 
and through the valley of the Dart at their base, (a 
valley that acts like a tunnel to assist the fury of the 
gust) the diminutive height of the trees, their sin- 
gular and antiquated appearance, all combine to 
raise feelings of mingled curiosity and wonder. The 
oaks are not above ten or twelve feet high, thus 
stunted is their growth by the sweeping winds to 
which they stand exposed ; but they spread far and 
wide at their tops, and their branches twist and wind 
in the most tortuous and fantastic manner; some- 
times reminding one of those strange things called 
mandrakes ; of which there is a superstition noticed 
by Shakspere — 

" Like shrieking mandrakes, torn from out the earth." 

In some places these branches are literally festooned 
with ivy and creeping plants ; and their trunks are 
so thickly embedded in a covering of fine velvet 
moss, that at first sight you would imagine them to 
be of enormous thickness in proportion to their 
height. But it is only their velvet coats that make 
them look so bulky; for on examination they are not 
found to be of any remarkable size. Their whole 
appearance conveys to you the idea of hoary age in 
the vegetable world ; and on visiting Wistman's 
Wood it is impossible to do other than think of 
those ' groves in stony places/ so often mentioned in 
Scripture as being dedicated to Baal and Ashtaroth. 
This ancient seat of idolatry seems to have under- 
gone, also, a great part of the curse that was pro- 
nounced on the idolatrous cities and groves of old ; 
for here, indeed, do 'serpents hiss/ and it shall 
never be inhabited ; ' neither doth the shepherd make 

96 DWARF OAK TREES. [let. 

his fold there ; ' ' but the wild beasts of the desert 
and the owl dwell there/ and ' the bittern ' still screams 
amidst its ' desolation.' 

Many of the immense masses of granite around 
and under the trees are covered with a cushion of 
the thickest and the softest moss ; but to sit down 
upon them would be rather too hazardous ; since 
such a seat might chance to disturb from their com- 
fortable bed a nest of adders that are very apt to 
shelter in such a covert, and few persons, now-a-days, 
would feel quite so confident as honest Hannaford in 
the power and efficacy of the ashen wand to render 
them innocuous. The oaks, though stunted and 
turning from the west winds, to which they are most 
exposed, are by no means destitute of foliage ; and 
the good-natured farmer cuts me down a branch to 
carry home in triumph, after having achieved the 
adventure of a visit to Wistman's Wood. This 
branch has upon it several acorns, the smallest I 
ever saw ; but the leaves are of the usual size, and as 
vigorous as most other trees of the same kind. 

I shall now give you a short extract from a very 
brief entry in Mr. Bray's Journal of August 9th, 
1827, concerning this wood. He says as follows: — 
" Tradition relates that Wistman's Wood was planted 
by the celebrated Isabella de Fortibus, Countess of 
Devon. 4 But I do not hesitate to say that, to any 
one who has visited the spot, it is evident no other 
hand has planted it than that of God. No one 
would or could have planted trees in the midst of 

4 Among the peers of Henry the Second was William de Fortibus, 
Earl of Albemarle, created Earl of Devon in right of his wife Isabel, 
sister and heiress to Baldwin de Redvers, or Rivers, eighth Earl of 
Devonshire. The title thus created in 1262 became extinct in 1270. 


such rocks. 5 They unquestionably can be no other 
than the remains of the original forest ; which, 
though in its original acceptation (according to Du 
Cange, in voce Foresta, it comes from feris, that is, 
ferarum statio y a station for wild beasts) it means 
but 'a wild uncultivated ground interspersed with 
wood/ 6 must yet have had some trees, at intervals, 
in every part of it. At present (except here, and in 
some modern plantations, of which those of my 
father are the finest) there are none, though the 
trunks of trees are occasionally found in the bogs. 
It is not improbable that these trees were first very 
generally destroyed by fire, in order to extirpate the 
wolves. The few that remained were destroyed by 
cattle afterwards pastured there ; and it is only, 
perhaps, owing to their being so surrounded and 
interspersed with rocks that those of the wood in 
question have been preserved from a similar depre- 

"At the late Visitation at Tavistock, on the 31st of 
May, Archdeacon Froude, a gentleman possessed of 
considerable antiquarian information, told me that 
he had lately obtained part of a tree from this wood, 
with a view, if possible, to discover its age by the 
number of circles from its centre to the circum- 
ference ; that, by the aid of a microscope, he had 
counted some hundreds, but that at times the divi- 

5 That Wistman's Wood was not planted by Isabella de Fortibus is 
proved by the fact before noticed, that the record of a Perambulation 
of the Moor (made immediately after the Norman Conquest) is still 
preserved in the office of the Duchy of Cornwall, by which we find 
that Wistman's Wood was even at that remote period much the same 
as it now appears. 

6 Todd's Johnson's Dictionary. See also there the legal sense of the 

vol. 1. H 

98 EVELYN'S SILVA. [let. 

sions were so minute as hardly to be distinguishable ; 
that, different from any other trees he had ever seen, 
the circles were more contracted, and in a manner 
condensed, on one side than on any other ; and that 
he supposed this was the side the most exposed to 
the beat of the weather. On consulting Evelyn's 
Silva y I found the following passages in his second 
volume, which may throw some light upon the 
subject : — 

"'The trunk or bough of a tree being cut trans- 
versely plain and smooth, sheweth several circles or 
rings more or less orbicular, according to the external 
figure, in some parallel proportion, one without the 
other, from the centre of the wood to the inside of 
the bark, dividing the whole into so many circular 
spaces .... by the largeness or smallness of the 
rings, the quickness or slowness of the growth of 
any tree may, perhaps, at certainty be estimated." 
— page 20 1. 

"'The spaces are manifestly broader on the one 
side than on the other, especially the more outer, to 
a double proportion, or more; the inner being near 
an equality. 

" i It is asserted that the larger parts of these rings 
are on the south and sunny side of the tree (which is 
very rational and probable) insomuch, that by cutting 
a tree transverse, and drawing a diameter through the 
broadest and narrowest parts of the ring, a meridian 
line may be described. 

" ' It is commonly and very probably asserted, that 
a tree gains a new ring every year. In the body of 
a great oak in the New-Forest cut transversely even 
(where many of the trees are accounted to be some 
hundreds of years old) three and four hundred have 


been distinguished/ These and other remarks, he 
attributes (p. 204) to *that learned person, the late 
Dr. Goddard.' 7 

"My tenant, Hannaford, said that his uncle had 
found a few silver coins, about the size of a sixpence, 
in some of the cairns on the Moor, and promised, if 
possible, to obtain for me a sight of them. He 
further informed me that he had lately destroyed 
what he called a cave, 8 which he described as com- 
posed of a large oblong stone supported, as a cover, 
by others set on edge at the head and foot, and on 
either side; and that among the stones and earth 
within he found some human hair clotted together, 
but no bones or other vestige of the body. Hair, it 
is said, will grow as long as there is any moisture 
in the body; but whether it will last longer than 
bones is a question that seems hardly yet decided. 
Might it not have been the scalp of an enemy, or 
hair offered up to the manes of the departed, or 
to some deity of which this might be the altar? 
The remains of one of these British monuments 
still exist on Bair-down ; but the ancient circular 
enclosures (of which there are so many near Wist- 
man's Wood) that I myself remember there, were 
unfortunately destroyed when my father erected his 

I have already given you Mr. Bray's conjectures 
as to the etymology of Wistman's Wood ; and the 
opinion of its having been a grove sacred to the 

7 For the age of trees, see Clarke's Travels, vol. vii. p. 312. 4th 

8 Or kieve : which signifies, I believe, any large vessel, from a 
puncheon to a caldron. There is a waterfall in Cornwall called St. 
Nathan's Kieve, probably from the basin into which it falls. 


rites of Druidism obtains no inconsiderable support 
from its immediate localities ; since, notwithstanding 
the spoliation of successive ages, there still remain 
close to it many British antiquities. Such for instance 
as three cairns, (and several others have been de- 
stroyed within the last twenty years to supply stones 
for the boundary walls, &c.) some hut rings, and the 
circles noticed by Mr. Bray in his Journal : these 
are all near the wood ; whilst to the south of it lies 
Crockern Tor, the undoubted seat of British juris- 
prudence on the Moor, and of which I shall speak 
at large in my next letter. To the west, separated 
only by the narrow valley which is watered by the river 
Dart, is found Bair-down, or i the hill of bards.' And 
Littleford Tor is also not far distant from Wistman's 
Wood, contiguous to which is seen a group of above 
sixty hut circles. Thus then do we find that this 
venerable grove, situated in the very heart of the 
Moor, is on all sides surrounded by vestiges of Druid 

Before I conclude this account of the wood, (in 
which there is not one circumstance fictitious, ex- 
cepting my having indulged in the fancy of your 
being of the party when I visited it in 1827) I ought 
to mention that Mr. Bray conjectures that it was 
very probably one of the last retreats of the Druids 
of Damnonia, after they were exposed to the perse- 
cution of the Roman power. There appears to me 
nothing improbable in this conjecture ; for we all 
know how long after that epoch the bards sought 
shelter and existed, in Caledonia, Armorica, Wales, 
and Cornwall. Dartmoor, so near the last-named 
retreat, from its mountainous character, its want of 
roads, its deep recesses, its loneliness and general 

vi.] BRITISH BARDS. 101 

difficulty of access, must long have stood as an im- 
penetrable barrier against persecution. 9 

On the Moor, shelter and even safety might be 
found for those who, to the last, struggled to main- 
tain their power; and who, rather than yield up the 
sacred privileges of that priesthood in which they 
had been trained from their earliest years, fled to 
rocks and deserts as their retreat ; and there still 
preserved their sway, though reduced in numbers 
and confined within a comparatively small space for 
their dominion. 

That such men were long welcome to and upheld 
by the British people, is proved by the circumstance 
of the bards having existed for so many generations 
in Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall, and Wales, when 
they were extinct in all other parts of Great Britain. 
The natives of the soil, it cannot be doubted, long 
maintained a veneration for their ancient customs 
and superstitions; and their bards possessed that 
feeling, that tenderness, which is ever the companion 
of poetry; and without which real genius, in any 
branch of literature, surely cannot exist : for if 
Plato's definition of genius be really true, that even 
in its highest order it is nothing more than 'extent 
of sympathy/ the bards might claim it as their own. 
Hence arose their power, and hence it was that they 
kept alive, by their pathetic appeals to the hearts of 
the Britons, all the pity that their own persecuted 
state was likely to call forth. They were, it is true, 
'fallen from their high estate/ and from their ac- 

* Mr. Polwhele considers that the Romans never penetrated into 
Dartmoor ; and that this circumstance is the cause of no Roman bar- 
rows or antiquities being there found; all that have hitherto been 
discovered being undoubtedly British. 

102 GENIUS OF THE BARDS. [let. vi. 

knowledged power ; they were seared and* blighted — 
yet from that very cause were they become but the 
more cherished and honoured ; even as the ancients 
hallowed those spots of earth that had been blasted 
by the lightning and the thunder-bolt of Jove — 
misfortune had touched them, and they were sacred. 
Long, therefore, were the bards cherished; long did 
they survive, honoured in their ruin and in their fall ; 
and now, perhaps, in the lonely and melancholy wood 
of Wistman, we behold one of the last decaying 
vestiges of their retreat. 



Fabrics of unhewn Stone of Eastern origin — The Gorseddau or Court 
of Judicature ; its high antiquity — The solemnity of Trial — Druid 
Judges in Civil and Religious Causes — Courts of Judicature held 
in the open air with the Nations of Antiquity — Crockera Tor 
on Dartmoor such a Court in the Cantred of Tamare — Since 
chosen for the Court of the Stannaries — Account of Crockern Tor 
in ancient and modern times — Tin Traffic — Stannaries, &c. — The 
Judge's Chair — Parliament-rock, &c. — Longaford Tor — Rock Basin 
— Many Barrows on Stennen Hill — Bair-down Man, or British 
Obelisk — The Grey Wethers — Causes for Crockera Tor being chosen 
by the Stannaries for their Parliament — Probably the Wittenagemot 
of this district succeeded on the very spot where the Gorseddau was 
held in British times — Grimspound a vast circular Wall ; its an- 
tiquity — Account of similar structures by Strabo and Caesar — Flocks 
and Herds of the Britons — Tin Traffic — The Scarlet Dye mentioned 
by Pliny, probably alluding to the Scarlet Moss, from which Dyes 
are formed, on the Moor — Dennabridge Pound — Horses in their free 
state — The River at Dennabridge — The great Stone, used as a Table 
by the old Stannators at Parliament-rock, found at last far from its 
original station — Dennabridge Pound, its extent, &c, described — 
Trunk of an Oak tree found by Hannaford in a Bog — Oak Bowls 
found in a Bog on the Moor ; their great antiquity — River Cowsick 
— Inscription to Shakspere on the Rock below the Bridge. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, March gtfr, 1832. 

I PURPOSE in this letter giving you some account 
of a place on Dartmoor which, it is most probable, 
was used in the days of the Britons as a tribunal of 
justice. Unhewn stones and circles of the same, it 
is generally admitted, were raised for courts of this 
description ; and we have the most ancient and un- 

104 TEMPLES, ETC., OF STONE. [let. 

doubted authority — the Bible, for considering that 
fabrics of unhewn stone derive their origin, like the 
more rational parts of the religion of the Druids, 
from those eastern nations of which the Celtae were 
a branch. 

We find that the custom of erecting or of con- 
secrating monuments of this nature, as memorials of 
a covenant, in honour of the dead, as places of 
worship, &c, prevailed even from the earliest times. 
Jacob and Laban made a covenant in Gilead; and 
no sooner was this done, than "Jacob took a stone 
and set it up for a pillar." Joshua in passing over 
Jordan with the ark caused a heap of stones to be 
raised, that they should be " for a memorial unto the 
children of Israel for ever." And certain tribes also 
"built there an altar by Jordan, a great altar to see." 
And after Joshua had destroyed Achan, " they raised 
over him a great heap of stones unto this day." 
The Jewish conquerors did the same by the King 
of Ai ; and on Absalom "did they heap stones:" 
and Rachel's monument, the first we read of in the 
Bible, was of stone, for Jacob " set up a pillar upon 
her grave." f 

There cannot, I think, be a doubt that the courts 
as well as the temples of unhewn stone, had their 
origin in the East. And as the laws of the British 
people were delivered to them by the Druids, not as 
secular ordinances, but as the commands of the gods 
whom they adored, this circumstance no doubt added 
to the solemnity of their administration : so that it is 
not improbable the spot appointed for the Gorseddau 
or Court of Judicature was chosen with a view to 
the most advantageous display of its august rites. 

1 Vide Herodotus for the stones set up by Sesostris. 

vil] THE GORSEDDAU. 105 

Hence an elevated station, like the temples of their 
worship, became desirable ; and there must have been 
a more than ordinary feeling of awe inspired in the 
mind of the criminal, by ascending heights covered, 
perhaps, with a multitude, to whose gaze he was 
exposed, as he drew nigh and looked upon those 
massive rocks, the seat of divine authority and judg- 
ment. How imposing must have been the sight of 
the priesthood and their numerous train, surrounded 
by all the outward pomps and insignia of their office ; 
as he listened, may be, to the solemn hymns of the 
vates, preparatory to the ceremonial of justice, or as 
he stepped within the sacred enclosure, there to receive 
condemnation or acquittal, to be referred to the 
ordeal of the logan, or the tolmen, according to the 
will of the presiding priest ! As he slowly advanced 
and thought upon these things, often must he have 
shuddered and trembled to meet the Druid's eye, 
when he stood by ' the stone of his power.' 

The Druids not only adjudged, but with their own 
hands executed the terrific sentence which they had 
decreed. The human victims which they immolated 
to appease or to render propitious their deities, (par- 
ticularly those offered to Hesus the god of battles, 
and to Bel, or the Sun) were generally chosen from 
criminals; unless when the numbers demanded by 
the sacrifice induced them to mingle the blood of 
the innocent with that of the guilty, to supply their 
cruel rites. And as these sacrifices were not merely 
confined to the eve of a battle, or to make intercession 
for the calamities of a kingdom, but were frequently 
offered up at the prayer of any chief or noble afflicted 
by disease, it is not unlikely that the condemned 
criminal was hurried from the Gorseddau to suffer as 



a victim to the gods, against whose supreme will all 
crimes were held to be committed that were done 
upon the earth. 

That these ancient courts of justice were kept in 
the open air seems to be the most probable opinion, 
since such was the custom with many of the nations 
of antiquity; the Areopagus of the Greeks is an 
instance. And in earlier ages we find it to have been 
much the same ; as we read in the Bible of the elders 
pronouncing judgment 'sitting in the gates.' These 
gates were at the entrance of a town or city ; a court 
that must have been in some measure held in the 
open air. With the Celtic nations it was unques- 
tionably a practice that long prevailed amongst 
their posterity; since, in the ancient laws of Wales, 
the judge was directed "to sit with his back to the 
sun or storm, that he might not be incommoded by 
either." a 

One of these primitive courts, handed down as 
such by successive ages from the earliest times, 
through the various changes of government and re- 
ligion, is to this day found on Dartmoor : it is known 
by the name of Crockern Tor, 3 the most curious and 

* Dr. Clarke when describing the Celtic remains at Morasteen, near 
old Upsal, says, " We shall not quit the subject of the Morasteen (the 
circle of stones) without noticing that in the central stone of such 
monuments we may, perhaps, discern the origin of the Grecian (B^a) 
Bema, or stone tribunal, and of the ' set thrones of judgment ' mentioned 
in Scripture and elsewhere, as the places on which kings and judges 
were elevated ; for these were always of stone" 

8 Mr. Polwhele says, in his Devon, " For the Cantred of Tamare we 
may fix, I think, the seat of judicature at Crockern Tor on Dartmoor ; 
here, indeed, it seems already fixed at our hands, and I have scarce a 
doubt but the Stannary Parliaments at this place were a continuation 
even to our own times of the old British Courts, before the age of 
Julius Caesar." 

vii.] CROCKERN TOR. 107 

remarkable seat, perhaps, of Druidical judicature 
throughout the whole kingdom. It remained as the 
Court of the Stannaries till within the last century, 
and hence was it commonly called Parliament-rock. 
On this spot the chief miners of Devon were, by their 
charters, obliged to assemble. Sometimes a company 
of two or three hundred persons would there meet, but 
on account of the situation, after the necessary and pre- 
liminary forms had been gone through, they usually 
adjourned to Tavistock, or some other Stannary town, 
to settle their affairs. The Lord Warden, who was 
the supreme judge of the Stannary Courts, invari- 
ably issued his summons that the jurors should meet 
at Crockern Tor on such a day ; and by an accidental 
reference to an old magazine, I find a record of a 
meeting of this nature having been there held so 
late as the year 1749. If this was the last meeting 
or not I cannot say, but I should think not, and that 
the custom died gradually away, till it was altogether 

Some powerful motive, some deep veneration for 
ancient usages, or some old custom too well estab- 
lished to be easily set aside, must have operated to 
have caused these Stannary Courts, in comparatively 
modern times, to be held on such a spot as Crockern 
Tor; whose rocks stand on the summit of a lofty 
height open on all sides to the bleak winds and to 
the weather, affording no shelter from a storm, remote 
from the habitations of men, and, in short, presenting 
such a combination of difficulties, and so many dis- 
comforts to any persons assembling on matters of 
business, that nothing can be more improbable, I had 
almost said impossible, that such a place should have 
been chosen for the Stannary Courts, had it not been 


handed down as a spot consecrated to justice from 
the earliest ages. 

Having offered these few introductory remarks on 
the subject of Crockern Tor, I now give you the 
following extracts from Mr. Bray's Journal of his 
survey of the western limits of Dartmoor, so long 
ago as the year 1802; when, though a very young 
man, he was the first person who really examined 
and brought into notice many of those curious 
Druidical antiquities in which it abounds. He spoke 
of them in various quarters ; and some persons were 
induced by what he said cursorily to explore them. 
Of these a few now and then published some account, 
and though not unfrequently availing themselves of 
Mr. Bray's information, I do not know, excepting in 
one instance, that any person ever did him the justice 
to acknowledge the obligation, or even to mention 
his name as having been the first to lead the way to 
an investigation of what was still to be found on the 

"September 20th, 1802. Crockern Tor, or Par- 
liament-rock, is situated on Dartmoor, near the 
turnpike-road leading from Moreton to Tavistock, 
at the distance of about eleven miles from the former, 
and nine from the latter. Prince, in his Worthies of 
Devon, p. 168, in his account of the family of Crocker, 
after informing us that Crockernwell received its 
name from them, says — 'There is another famous 
place in this province, which seems to derive its 
name also from this family, and that is Crockern 
Tor, standing in the Forest of Dartmoor, where the 
parliament is wont to be held for Stannary causes; 
unto which the four principal stannary towns, Tavi- 
stock, Plimton, Ashburton, and Chagford, send each 


twenty-four burgesses, who are summoned thither 
when the lord warden of the Stannaries sees occasion; 
where they enact statutes, laws, and ordinances, 
which, ratified by the lord warden aforesaid, are in 
full force in all matters between tinner and tinner, 
life 2nd limb excepted. This memorable place is 
only a great rock of moorstone, out of which a table 
and seats are hewn, open to all the weather, storms 
and tempests, having neither house nor refuge near it, 
by divers miles. The borough of Tavestock is said to 
be the nearest, and yet that is distant ten miles off.' 

" I am not inclined to agree with Prince about the 
origin of the name of this rock, nor, from the present 
appearance of it, do I think his a correct description. 
The first thing that struck me was a rock, with a 
fissure in the middle, with one half of it split, either 
by art or nature, into four pretty regular steps, each 
about a foot and a half high and two feet broad. 4 
Whether these were used as seats of eminence at the 
assembly of the tinners, I cannot pretend to say. 

4 The following very curious passage from Clarke's Travels, vol. iv., 
will be found most interesting here: — "Along this route, particularly 
between Cana and Turan, we observed basaltic phenomena; the ex- 
tremities of columns, prismatically formed, penetrated the surface of the. 
soil, so as to render our journey rough and unpleasant. These marks 
of regular or of irregular crystallization generally denote the vicinity of 
a bed of water lying beneath their level. The traveller, passing over 
a series of successive plains, resembling in their gradation the order 
of a staircase, observes, as he descends to the inferior stratum upon 
which the water rests, that where rocks are disclosed, the appearance 
of crystallization has taken place; and then the prismatic configuration 
is vulgarly denominated basaltic. When this series of depressed surfaces 
occurs very frequently, and the prismatic form is very evident, the 
Swedes, from the resemblance such rocks have to an artificial flight of 
steps i call them trap ; a word signifying, in their language, a staircase. 
In this state science remains at present concerning an appearance in 
nature which exhibits nothing more than the common process of crystal' 
lization, upon a larger scale than has hitherto excited attention." — p. 191. 

1 10 PARLIAMENT-ROCK. [let. 

" Before this mass, towards the north, is a short 
ledge of stones evidently piled up by art, which 
might have been a continued bench. On ascending 
higher I arrived at a flat area, in which, though 
almost covered with rushes, I could plainly trace out 
four lines of stones forming an oblong square, twenty 
feet in length and six in breadth, pointing nearly 
east and west. The entrance seems to have been at 
the north-west corner. At the north side, four feet 
distant, is another imperfect line, and ten feet on 
either side is a straight natural buttress of rock. 

Possibly the table might have stood in the centre of 
this area, and these lines may be vestiges of the seats 
around it. I can hardly suppose the stone was so 
large as to rest on these as its foundation, though 
there are no stones in the middle that might have 
answered that purpose. Whilst the Lord Warden 
and Stannators presided at this table, probably the 
rest of the assembly filled up the remainder of the 
area, or climbed the rocks on each side. 

"As an instance of the powers of the Stannary 
Court, I have been informed that a member of the 
House of Commons having spoken in it of the Stan- 

vil] TIN TRAFFIC. ill 

naries in a manner that displeased the Lord Warden, 
as soon as the offending member came within the 
jurisdiction of his court he immediately issued his 
precept, arrested him, and kept him in prison on 
bread and water till he had acknowledged his error 
and begged pardon for his transgression. 

" Tin, on being melted, is put into moulds, holding 
generally somewhat above three hundred weight, 
(then denominated block-tin) where it is marked as 
the smelters choose, with their house-mark [that 
brought to Tavistock bears, I have generally ob- 
served, an Agnus Dei, or lamb holding a pennon] 
by laying brass or iron stamps in the face of the 
blocks while the tin is in a fluid state, and cool 
enough to sustain the stamping iron. When the tin 
is brought to be coined, the assay-master's deputy 
assays it by cutting off with a chisel and hammer a 
piece of one of the lower corners of the block, about 
a pound weight, partly by cutting and partly by 
breaking, in order to prove the roughness [query 
toughness ?] and firmness of the metal. If it is a 
pure good tin, the face of the block is stamped with 
the duchy seal, which stamp is a permit for the owner 
to sell, and at the same time an assurance that the 
tin so marked has been examined and found mer- 
chantable. The stamping of this impression by a 
hammer is coining the tin, and the man who does it is 
called the hammer-man. The duchy seal is argent, 
a lion rampant gules, crowned or, with a border gar- 
nished with bezants." 

The punishment for him who, in the days of old, 
brought bad tin to the market, was to have a certain 
quantity of it poured down his throat in a melted 


112 JUDGE'S CHAIR. [let. 

Tin was the staple article of commerce with the 
Phoenicians, who used it in their celebrated dye of 
Tyrian purple, it being the only absorbent then 
known. This they procured from the island of 
Britain. Its high value made the preservation of its 
purity a thing of the utmost consequence; any 
adulteration of the metal, therefore, was punished 
with barbarous severity. The Greeks were desirous 
of discovering the secret whence the Phoenicians 
derived their tin, and tracked one of their vessels 
accordingly. But her master steered his galley on 
shore, in the utmost peril of shipwreck, to avoid 
detection ; and he was rewarded, it is said, by the 
State for having preserved the secret of so valued 
an article of national commerce. 

The next extract I here send you is from Mr. 
Bray's Journal of June 7th, 1831. 

"My wife, her nephew, and myself, set out from 
Bair-down, between twelve and one o'clock, for 
Crockern Tor. In addition to the wish she had long 
felt of seeing it, her curiosity was not a little raised 
by my tenant's telling her that he could show her 
the Judge's Chair. And I confess that my own was 
somewhat excited to find out whether his traditionary 
information corresponded with my own conjectures, 
made many years ago, as to this seat of the President 
of the Stannators. He took us to the rock (situated 
somewhat below the summit on the south side of the 
Tor) which bears the appearance of rude steps, the 
highest of which he supposed to be the seat. It 
seems to be but little, if at all, assisted by art, unless 
it were by clearing away a few rocks or stones. 
Below it is an oblong area, in which was the table, 
whilst around it (so says tradition) sat the Court of 


Stannators : whence it is also known by the name of 
Parliament-rock. This stone, I had been informed, 
was removed by the late Judge Buller to Prince Hall ; 
but my tenant told me that it was drawn by twelve 
yoke of oxen to Dennabridge, now occupied by 
Farmer Tucket, on the Ashburton road, about ten 
miles from Tavistock. It is now used, he said, as a 
shute-trough, in which they wash potatoes, &c. 

" From this, as far as I can comprehend his mean- 
ing, I should conceive that it serves the purpose of 
a lip, or embouchure, to some little aqueduct that 
conveys the water into the farmer's yard. The Tor 
itself is of no great height, and is now much lower 
than it was, by large quantities of stone having been 
removed from its summit for erecting enclosures and 
other purposes. It could not be chosen, therefore, 
for its super-eminent or imposing altitude ; though 
possibly it might be so for its centrical situation ; 
but I am disposed to think that it was thus honoured 
from being used as a judicial court from time imme- 
morial. My reasons I shall mention hereafter. I 
shall remark here, however, that it is the first tor of 
any consequence that presents itself on the east side 
of the Dart, upon the ridge that immediately over- 
hangs its source. 

"We then proceeded along this ridge to Little 
Longaford, or Longford Tor. This, in Greenwood's 
map, which is defective enough in regard to names, 
is thus distinguished from a larger one ; whilst the 
tors that follow Crockern Tor in succession are there 
called Littlebee Tor, Long Tor, Higher-white Tor, 
and Lower-white Tor. White Tor, or Whiten Tor, as 
my tenant pronounced it, we did not visit ; and as I 
have some doubts about the real names of the tors, 

vol, 1. I 


I shall only say that the first (a small one) that we 
approached had something in its appearance which 
so much reminded me of Pew Tor, that I asked the 
guide if there were any basins in it ; at first he re- 
plied in the negative, but afterwards said he thought 
he had once observed a basin on one of these tors. 
This was enough to ensure a search, and we were 
not long in finding one. It was in the shape of a 
rude oval, terminating in a point or lip, about twenty 
inches long, eighteen wide, and six deep. A square 
aperture among the rocks here, somewhat like a 
window, suggested the idea of its possibly having 
been used as a tolmen, through which children, and 
sometimes, I believe, grown people, were drawn to 
cure them of certain diseases. The second tor was 
much less, but large enough to afford Mrs. Bray, who 
felt fatigued, sufficient shelter from the sun and wind 
whilst we proceeded ; and there we left her busied 
with her sketch-book. 

" Between this and the great tor we found several 
pools of water, though it was the highest part of the 
ridge, and though the season had been so free from 
rain (a circumstance not very common in Devon- 
shire) as not only to render the swamps of Dartmoor 
passable, but almost to dry up the rivers. Longford 
Tor is more conical than most of the eminences of the 
Forest, having very much the appearance of the keep 
of a castle. Unlike also the generality of tors, which 
mostly consist of bare blocks of granite, it has a great 
deal of soil covered with turf, and only interspersed 
with masses of rock, whilst the summit itself is 
crowned with verdure. Towards the north is White 
or Whiten Tor: for the Devonians soften, or as some 
may think harden, words by the introduction of a 


vii.] STENNEN HILL. 115 

consonant, but more frequently of a vowel ; and they 
are laughed at for saying Black-a-brook instead of 
Blackbrook, though we perceive nothing objection- 
able in black-a-moor, which is precisely upon the 
same principle of euphony. On this tor, some years 
ago, were found some silver coins, and, I believe, 
human hair. And on Stennen Hill, which lies below 
it, if I may trust my informant, are many barrows, in 
one of which was supposed to have been found 'a 
pot of money/ whilst two men of the name of Nor- 
rich and Clay were employed in taking stones from 
it. The former, it is said, discovered it without com- 
municating it to his companion, but sent him to fetch 
a 'bar-ire/ or crow-bar, whilst he availed himself of 
the opportunity to appropriate the contents to himself. 
The inference seems principally to be drawn from the 
circumstance that he afterwards was known to lend 
considerable sums of money at interest 

"The greatest extent of view from Longford Tor 
is towards the east and south-east. In that direction, 
as far as I could collect, you see Staple Tor, (so that 
there seem to be two of this name on the Moor) 
High or Hay Tor, Bag Tor, Hazel Tor, &c. On 
Hay Tor, which is commonly called Hay Tor Rocks, 
though at so great a distance, is visible a kind of white 
land or belt about its base, made by the removal of 
granite : so that we can more easily account for it 
than the belts of Jupiter. Of the tors that lie towards 
the south and south-west, Hessory is certainly higher 
than Longford (which my guide at first doubted), as 
also Mis Tor. Nearer are Bair-down and Sidford 
Tors. Bair-down Man (which, however, we could 
not see) is a single stone erect, about ten feet high. 
To these succeeded, towards the north, Crow or 


Crough Tor, and Little Crow Tor. I learnt from 
my guide that at a place called Gidley there are 
circles much larger and far more numerous than near 
Merrivale. There are also two parallel lines about 
three feet apart, which stretch to a considerable dis- 
tance. In order to see them, you must go to New- 
house, about twelve or thirteen miles on the Moreton 
road from Tavistock, and there turn off into the 
Moor for about four or five miles. I also learnt that 
near the rabbit warren there is something that goes 
by the name of the King's Oven. 

" We again on this day visited Wissman, Wistman, 
or Welshman's Wood (concerning the etymology of 
which I made some remarks in my former papers) : it 
is about half a mile in extent, and consists principally 
of oaks, but is here and there interspersed with what 
is called in Devonshire the quick beam or mountain- 
ash. I conceive it to have been 'the wood of the 
wise-men/ and Bair-down, on the opposite side, 'the 
hill of bards/ On the latter were formerly many 
circles, which, I am sorry to say, were destroyed by 
the persons employed by my father in making his 
enclosures. Would they have given themselves but 
a little more trouble they might have found a sufficient 
supply among those stones or rocks which are thickly 
scattered on a spot opposite the wood, and to which 
they give the name of the Grey Wethers. I think 
that the same name has been given to some stones at 
Abury, with which is supposed to be erected Stone- 
henge. If so, the coincidence is not a little remarkable. 
They possibly may be so called from resembling at a 
distance a flock of sheep. The. resemblance indeed 
had struck me before I heard the name. 

" I shall now state the reasons why I think Crockern 

vii.] CROCKERN TOR. 117 

Tor was chosen by the miners as the chief station 
for holding their Stannary Courts. It is but little 
more than a mile from what I venture to consider as 
'the hill of bards' and 'the wood of wisemen/ or 
Druids. On, or near each of these are numerous 
circles, which, whether they were appropriated to 
domestic or religious purposes (most probably to 
both) clearly indicate that it must have been a con- 
siderable station. This was not only supplied with 
water from the river, but two or three springs arise 
from the rocks at the bottom of the wood itself. 
Well sheltered and well watered, (for not only had 
they trees to screen them from the storm, but they 
had also a comparatively snug valley, open only to 
the south) it is no wonder that the aborigines here 
fixed their habitation. The circles, the wood, the 
existing names, all seem to lead to the supposition 
that some of the high places in their immediate 
neighbourhood were originally those of superstition 
and judicature, where priest, judge, and governor 
were generally combined. The tor that we may 
thus imagine was appropriated by the ancient Bri- 
tons, might afterwards (from traditionary veneration 
for the spot) be used by the Saxons for assembling 
together their Wittenagemot, or ' meeting of wisemen/ 
and lastly, for a similar reason, by the miners for 
their Stannary Courts." 

Before I give you Mr. Bray's account of Denna- 
bridge Pound, which will be the next extract from 
his Journal, it may not be amiss to observe that 
there is on Dartmoor another remarkable vestige 
and one better known, of like antiquity, called 
Grimspound. Like that of Dennabridge, this truly 
cyclopean work is an enclosure, consisting of moor- 

Ii8 GRIMSPOUND. [let. 

stone blocks, piled into a vast circular wall, extend- 
ing round an area of nearly four acres of ground. 
Grimspound has two entrances, and a spring of 
water is found within, where the ruins of the stone- 
ring huts are so numerous as to suggest the idea of 
its having been a British town. It is well known that 
the foundations of all these primitive dwellings were 
of stone, though their superstructure, according to 
Diodorus and Strabo, was of wood. For they " live," 
says the former, " in miserable habitations, which are 
constructed of wood and covered with straw." And, 
when speaking of the Gauls, the latter says, " They 
make their dwellings of wood in the form of a circle, 
with lofty tapering roofs." 

In some instances it is not improbable that the 
larger stone circles are vestiges of enclosures made 
for the protection of cattle. The Damnonii were 
celebrated for their flocks and herds ; and the wolves, 
the wild cats, and the foxes, with which this country 
once abounded, must have rendered such protection 
highly necessary for their preservation. I have often 
remarked on Dartmoor two or three small hut-rings, 
and near them a larger circle of stones ; the latter I 
have always fancied to have been the shelter of the 
flocks, and the former the dwellings of their owners. 
There is nothing perhaps very improbable in this 
conjecture, since many tribes of the ancient Britons 
were, like the Arabs, a wandering and a pastoral 
people ; and it is also worthy of observation, that to 
this day the Devonians never fold their sheep, but, on 
Dartmoor in particular, still keep them within an en- 
closure of stone walls set up rudely together without 
cement. Where extensive stone circles are found 
near what may be called a cursus, or via sacra, (of 

vii.] STONE CIRCLES. 119 

which I shall have somewhat to say hereafter) or 
near cromlechs and decaying altars, we may fairly 
conclude such to have been erected not as the habita- 
tions of individuals, but as temples sacred to those 
gods whose worship would have been considered as 
profaned within any covered place, and whose only 
appropriate canopy was held to be the heavens in 
which they made their dwelling. 

The circles within Grimspound are different from 
these ; and that this vast enclosure (as well as Den- 
nabridge Pound) was really a British town, seems to 
be supported by the accounts given of such structures 
by Strabo and Caesar. The latter describes them as 
being surrounded by a mound or ditch for the security 
of the inhabitants and their cattle. And Strabo says, 
" When they have enclosed a very large circuit with 
felled trees, they build within it houses for themselves 
and hovels for their cattle." 5 

That the people of Dartmoor should prefer granite 
to felled trees for such an enclosure is nothing won- 
derful, inasmuch as the Moor abounds with it ; in fact 
it must have been then, the same as in the present 
day, a much easier task to have piled together the 
blocks and pieces of stone, strewed all around them, 
than to have felled trees for the purpose of forming 
their walls ; and how much greater was the security 
afforded by a granite fence, to one of mere timber ! 
In other parts of Britain, such as Caesar saw and 

5 " The universality of Celtic manners, at a very remote period, is 
proved by the existence of conical thatched houses, as among the 
Britons, and rude stone obelisks, adjacent tumuli, and Druidical 
circles, in Morocco." — Gentleman 's Magazine, July, 1831. J)r. Clarke, 
the celebrated traveller, gives a very interesting account of vestiges 
similar to those found on Dartmoor, in Sweden, and other northern 
countries. See the ninth volume of his Travels, 


described, rock or stone was not so easily or so plen- 
tifully to be found. The Britons, therefore, very 
naturally availed themselves of what the country 
would most readily afford ; and the wild and vast 
forests supplied materials for their public walls as 
well as their private dwellings. 

Stones, however, it is probable, were in all places 
considered as indispensable in the erection of those 
structures sacred to the rites of religion ; and hence 
is it that we often see such enormous masses piled 
on places where it seems little less than miraculous 
to find them : for no stones of a similar nature being 
seen in their immediate neighbourhood, gives rise to 
the belief that they must have found their present 
stations by being moved from a distance, and not un- 
frequently to the summits of the loftiest hills and 
mountains : such, for instance, is that most extra- 
ordinary cromlech called Arthur's Stone on the 
eminence of Cevyn Bryn in South Wales. 6 That 
most of these structures were of a sacred nature 
cannot well be doubted. No impulse either on the 
public or the private mind is so strong as that dictated 
by a feeling of religion, even when it is misdirected : 
no labours, therefore, have ever equalled those of man 
when he toils, in peace or in war, for the honour or 
the preservation of his altars. 

That Grimspound and Dennabridge sheltered both 
the Britons and their cattle seems the more probable 
when we recollect the general customs of that people, 
and of the Damnonii in particular ; since, in every 
way, their flocks must have been to them of the 

6 An account of this ancient British monument was laid before the 
Society of Antiquaries by my brother, Alfred J. Kempe. It may be 
found in the twenty-third volume of the Arcfuzologia. 


highest value. They were allowed to be the most 
excellent in Britain; the constant verdure of this 
county no doubt rendered them such. They were 
not merely useful at home, but an article of commerce 
abroad ; and Caesar says, that " the Britons in the 
interior parts of the country were clothed in skins." 
It is not improbable, therefore, that the Damnonii 
found their account in the wool and skins of those 
flocks for which they were so famed, as a convenient 
clothing for their neighbours. 

Their tin traffic with the Phoenicians had early 
initiated them into a knowledge of the advantages 
and benefits of commerce. And as I have long 
taken a pleasure in busying myself to trace out, in 
connexion with ancient times, whatever may be found 
in Nature or in art on Dartmoor, I amuse myself with 
fancying that I have discovered an allusion in Pliny 
to the beautiful and scarlet moss still found on the 
Moor, which, not many years ago, was used as a 
dye for cloth. Indeed, it is not improbable that, 
as such, it became an article of commerce even in 
the days of the ancient Britons ; for Pliny says, when 
speaking of British dyes, that they were enriched 
by "wonderful discoveries, and that their purples 
and scarlets were produced only by certain wild 

How sadly have I rambled in these pages ! It is 
a good thing that in letters there is no sin in being 
desultory, or how often should I have offended ! But 
letters are something like the variations of an air of 
music ; you may run from major to minor, and through 
a thousand changes, so long as you fall into the sub- 
ject at last, and bring back the ear to the right key 
at the close. Once more, therefore, I fall back on 


., lUitul .»'»»' h^rc follows the extract 

• /.ui * ./«»«'iial: - 

• % th <•/ .July, 1X31, I sct out in search of 
, n/i 1 In- il«wr; namely, the table said to 
... ,, „i„viiJ frtnn Crockern Tor, and Denna- 
; .,„/, which (like all or most others on the 
. ; , uwlcfrtood was on the site of a Celtic 
Sl^ng up the hill beyond Merrivale Bridge, 
. . ." avA colts, almost wild, that were in an 
-.-ir we road, came galloping towards us, 
... .'r.32 cut;:--::;-' or the instinctive feeling of 
«.,-* ^--a^c" wf:h the carriage as far as 
'. .. .Vj^'.-v. One ot them was of a light 

• • -,i-h:"s: «s mane, which was almost 
. -v rVrmcJ a rme contrast, but added 
. . .- -«* r:\r:;:resci:e effect of the whole 

. m m m% *. 

% * < 


waving and floating, now in 
vk. and now over its forehead, 
v> a:-.: *ars. I could not help thinking 
^ - —jv * % -r 'vrses by cropping their manes 
.\ .w^ cruo'.'.y depriving them of their 
. : w a^a :*s: ::ies. And enthusiastically 
....-• :v :as:s* ot* the Greeks, particularly in 
? ..\ * *x %, v: In:: confess that, if I may be 
v .* % \\^:- !'*v own eves, thev seem to have 
'', ,. •:.c :.*<* » l:v - ' ejected a rich embellishment, 

" V ..ooN- : ¥* as on l ' 10 I'-'S" 1 marbles in the 

, V \^,MiV.. a!! their horses with hogged manes. 

•* . **s tun tVom painting to sculpture, and 

i s-h>-a:\s to iJivwv. though it may still, perhaps, 

t s**vV Sv* association of ideas, I must return to 

.^\Vfc* ot* oui ptosont pursuit, without further 

Jfrr thoso vlu*i cssions. 

.Iwkl^o over which we had passed, I ob- 

vii.] DENN ABRIDGE. 123 

served, on the right of the road, a circle seven paces 
in diameter, with a raised bank around, and hollow 
in the centre. Having come about ten miles from 
Tavistock, which I had understood was the distance 
of Dennabridge Pound, I entered a cottage near to 
make inquiries, but could gain little or no information, 
finding only a girl at home who had not long resided 
there. I had observed on the map that there was not 
only Dennabridge Pound, but also a place called 
Dennabridge, which I learnt from this girl was about 
a quarter of a mile distant. Seeing nothing at the 
former place that at all corresponded with the object 
of my search, I resolved on proceeding to the latter ; 
not without hopes that I should meet with some kind 
of primitive bridge, consisting perhaps of immense 
flat stones, supported on rough piers, which was the 
ordinary construction of our ancient British bridges. 

" Seeing a person whom I considered one of the 
natives near a cottage, I pointed to a lane that 
seemed to lead towards the river, and asked if it was 
the way to Dennabridge. The answer I received 
was, 'This, Sir, is Dennabridge/ My informant 
seemed as much surprised at my question, as I 
was at his reply. No signs of one being visible, I 
inquired where was the bridge that gave name to 
the place? He said that he knew not why it was 
so called, but that there was no bridge near it. 
Observing, however, at some distance down the 
river, what seemed not unlike the piers of one, of 
which the incumbent stones or arches might have 
fallen, I asked if a bridge had ever stood there ? He 
believed not, but said that they were rocks ; situated, 
however, so near each other, that it was the way by 
which persons usually crossed the river. Under- 

124 DENNABRIDGE. [let. 

standing that the spot was difficult of access, par- 
ticularly for a lady, we did not go to it; but I am 
rather disposed to think that the place is not so 
called as in lucus a non lucendo, but that these 
rocks were considered as a bridge, or at least quasi 
a bridge. And perhaps it deserved this name as 
much as that which is thus mentioned by Milton in 
his description of Satan's journey to the earth — 

" ' Sin and Death amain, 
Following his track, such was the will of Heaven, 
Paved after him a broad and beaten way 
Over the dark abyss, whose boiling gulf 
Tamely endured a bridge of wondrous length, 
From Hell continued, reaching the utmost orb 
Of this frail world.' 

"On further conversation with this man, I learnt 
that he lived at Dennabridge Pound, where there 
was no stone of the kind I inquired for, but that at 
Dennabridge itself, hard by, was a large stone that 
possibly might be the one in question. I asked if 
he had ever heard that it had been brought thither 
by the late Judge Buller. He said that it must 
have been placed there long before the Judge's time ; 
that he knew the Judge well, and had lived in that 
neighbourhood forty years or more. Perhaps I might 
have obtained the information I wanted long before, 
had I asked for what I was told to ask ; namely, for 
a stone that was placed over a slwot. But, absurdly 
I confess, I have always had an objection to the word ; 
because in one sense at least it must be admitted to 
be a vulgarism even by provincialists themselves. 
The lower classes in Devonshire almost invariably 
say s/toot the door, instead of shut the door. And 
when it is used by them to express a water-pipe, or 


the mouth of any channel from which is precipitated 
a stream of water, I have hitherto connected it with- 
that vulgarity which arises from the above abuse of 
the word. But if we write it, as perhaps we ought, 
shute y from the French chute, which signifies fall, we 
have an origin for it that may by some perhaps be 
considered the very reverse of vulgar, and have at 
the same time a definite and appropriate expression 
for what otherwise, without a periphrasis, could hardly 
be made intelligible. 

"At the entrance of the farm-yard adjoining is, I 
doubt not, the stone I had gone so far in search of, 
though I could not gain such satisfactory informa- 
tion as I anticipated. The farmer who lives on the 
spot exonerates the Judge, as did my first informant, 
from having committed the spoliation with which he 
has been charged. He says that it has been there, 
to his own knowledge, for fifty years; and that he 
has heard it was brought from Crockern Tor about 
eighty years ago. He further says that it was re- 
moved by the reeve of the manor. His wife, who 
is the daughter of this reeve, (or of his successor, I 
do not remember which) says that she also always 
heard that it had been brought from Crockern Tor, 
but she does not think that it could have been the 
table, as she remembers that her father used to take 
persons to the spot as a guide, and show them the 
table, chair, and other objects of curiosity on the 
Tor. I thought I could perceive that the reeve of 
the manor was at any rate considered a great per- 
sonage, and not the less so, perhaps, from being the 
cicerone, or guide to the curiosities of the Forest ; 
for this is the word by which the inhabitants are fond 
of designating the treeless Moor. I do not know 



whether the reeve, with the spirit of an antiquary, 
-had any veneration for a cromlech, and therefore 
wished to imitate one ; but if such were his in- 
tention he succeeded not badly : for the stone (which 
is eight feet long by nearly six wide, and from four 
to six inches thick) is placed, as was the quoit in 
such British structures, as a cover, raised upon three 
rude walls about six feet high, over a trough, into 
which by a shuts runs a stream of water. And 
probably the idea that the removal of this stone 

was by some one in authority, may have given rise 
to the report that such person could be no less than 
Judge Buller, who possibly might be supposed to give 
sentence for such transportation (far enough certainly, 
but not beyond sea) in his judicial capacity: to which, 
perhaps, some happy confusion between him and the 
judge or president who sat in the Stannary Court 
may have contributed. Nay, possibly the reeve or 
steward may have considered himself to be the legal 
representative of the latter, and so have removed it 
to his own residence. We thence returned to Denna- 
bridge Pound. On clambering over the gate, I was 


surprised to find close to it a rude stone seat Had 
I any doubt before that the pound was erected on 
the base of an ancient British, or rather Celtic circle, 
I could not entertain it now; for I have not the 
slightest doubt of the high antiquity of this massive 
chair. It is not improbable that it suggested the 
idea of the structure over the trough. And it is 
fortunate that the reeve had not recourse to this 
chair, instead of the stannary table, for the stone he 
wanted. It certainly was handier ; but possibly it 

would have deprived him of showing his authority 
and station by occasionally sitting there himself. 
But I am fully convinced that it was originally de- 
signed for a much greater personage; no less perhaps 
than an Arch-Druid, or the President of some court 
of judicature. Two upright stones, about six feet 
high, serve as sides or elbows. These support 
another, eight feet long, that forms the covering 
overhead. The latter, being in a sloping direction 
to give greater shelter both from wind and rain, ex 
tends to the back, which consists also of a single 
stone. In front of it are two others, that supply the 


immediate seat, whilst a kind of step may be con- 
sidered as the foot-stool. 

" The enclosure, pound, or circle, is about 460 paces 
in circumference on the inside. The wall of it has a 
double facing, the external part being a little higher 
than the inner. Though far beyond the memory of 
man, this superstructure is unquestionably modern, 
when compared with the base or foundation, which is 
ruder, and of larger stones. There are a few rocks 
scattered about in the area. I thought, however, 
that I could distinguish the vestige of a small circle 
near the centre, through which passed a diametrical 
line to the circumference, but somewhat bent in its 
southern direction towards the chair. 

" On reaching Bair-down I was told by my tenant 
Hannaford, that there could be no doubt but I had 
seen the right stone, and that he believed the report 
of its being removed by Judge Buller was wholly 
without foundation. On referring afterwards to Mr. 
Burt's notes to Carrington's poem on Dartmoor, I 
find he treats it as 'a calumny/ I believe that by 
our different conversations with Hannaford we have 
made him a bit of an antiquary, and I was no less 
surprised than delighted when he informed me that, 
only a few days before, he had brought home an oak 
that he had discovered in a bog, at a place called 
Broad-hole, on Bair-down. I have heard Sir Thomas 
Tyrwhitt say that he had found alders and willows in 
a bog near Tor Royal ; but I do not remember to 
have heard of any oak being so found, at least of 
such dimensions. The tree thus discovered, which 
consists of the trunk, part of the root, and also of a 
branch, is ten feet long, and, at its lower extremity, 
is nearly five feet in girth. The whole of the trunk 


is perfectly sound, but not altogether so dark or solid 
as I should have expected ; for generally, I believe, 
and particularly when it has been deposited in a bog, 
it is as hard and as dark as ebony. A branch of it 
had for some time been visible in the bank of the 
river Cowsick, and this induced Hannaford to examine 
it, and finally to exhumate it from the depth of eight 
feet. It is not improbable that this is a vestige of the 
antediluvian forest of the Moor. Distant from Wist- 
man's Wood about two miles, and by the side of 
another river, it could never have formed part of it ; 
indeed it is probably larger than any there : and we 
have no account for ages of any other oaks existing 
on the whole of this extensive desert. A day or two 
after he brought it to Tavistock, and it is now in my 

" I learnt from him that some years since some oak 
bowls 7 were found in a bog, between the Ashburton 
and Moreton roads, by a person called John Ash. 

" On crossing the bridge which was erected by my 
father over the Cowsick, Mrs. Bray expressed a wish 
that I would point out to her some of my inscriptions 
on the rocks below, which, from some strange circum- 
stance or other, she had never seen ; and even now I 
thought that without much search we should not 
have found them ; not recollecting, after so long a 
period, where I had placed them. But on looking 
over the parapet she observed, on one of the rocks 

7 Bowls formed of oak were used by the ancient Britons. Mention 
is made of them in Ossian ; and in the Cad Godden ; or, The Battle of 
the Trees, by Taliesin, the following passage occurs: — "I have been 
a spotted adder on the mount" (alluding to the serpent's egg) ; "I have 
been a viper in the lake. I have been stars among the supreme chiefs ; 
I have been the weigher of the falling drops," (the water in the rock 
basins) "dressed in my priest's robe, and furnished with my bowl." 

vol. 1. K 


beneath, the name of her favourite Shakspere. 
Perhaps under other circumstances it might have 
altogether escaped notice ; but the sun was at that 
instant in such a direction as to assist her in de- 
ciphering it, as it did some of our English officers in 
Egypt, who thus were able to interpret the inscription 
on Pompey's Pillar which the French savants had so 
long attempted in vain. Many an officer (for a large 
body of troops had guarded for years the French 
prison on the Moor) no doubt had visited Bair-down 
and probably fished on the river, and yet these in- 
scriptions seem never to have attracted their notice, 
nor, indeed, that of other persons ; or, if they have, 
it has never reached my ears. But I have long been 
taught to sympathise with Virgil, when he exclaims — 

' Rura mihi, et rigui placeant in vallibus amnes, 
Flumina amem sylvasque inglorius. , — Geo, 1. ii. 485. 

"Had my name been so renowned as € virAm volitare 
per oras* I doubt whether I should have experienced 
greater pleasure than I felt when my wife first dis- 
covered my inscription on the rock, and expressed the 
feelings it excited in her. I question whether, for the 
moment, she felt not as much enthusiasm as if she 
had been on the Rialto itself, and there had been 
reminded of the spirit-stirring scenes of our great 
dramatist in the Merchant of Venice. I have some- 
where read that a philosopher having been ship- 
wrecked on an island which he fancied might be 
uninhabited, or, what perhaps was worse, inhabited by 
savages, felt himself not only perfectly at ease but 
delighted at seeing a mathematical figure drawn upon 
the sand ; because he instantly perceived that the 
island was not only the abode of man, but of man in 


an advanced stage of civilization and refinement. It 
certainly was a better omen than a footstep ; for the 
impression of a human foot might have excited as 
much fear, if not surprise, as that which startled 
Crusoe in his desert island. Perhaps I had fondly 
anticipated that, long ere this, on seeing these inscrip- 
tions, some kindred being might have exclaimed, ' A 
poet has been here, or one at least who had the feelings 
of a poet/ I would have been content, however, to 
remain unknown still longer, thus to be noticed as I 
was by one so fully competent to appreciate those 
feelings, which no doubt to most would have appeared 
ridicutous, if not altogether contemptible." 

As, since the days of Sir Charles Grandison, it is 
quite inadmissible for ladies to write to their friends 
the fine things that are said of them, I certainly should 
have stopped short before I came to this compliment 
about myself. But my husband, who was pleased to 
pay it, insisting that if I took anything from his 
Journal I should take all or none, I had no choice. 



Remains of the great Cursus near Merrivale Bridge — Plan — Fallen 
Cromlech ; Barrow ; Obelisk ; large Circle — Processions in the 
Cursus in ancient times — Chariot Races, &c. — The Welsh Poem of 
Gododin ; its mention of a similar Cursus at Stonehenge — Remarks 
on Cromlechs — Drewsteignton, the finest Cromlech on Dartmoor 
— Cromlech near the Cursus of the Moor, probably a Stone of Sacri- 
fice — Barrows on Dartmoor opened in 1790; Urns found in them 
containing Ashes, or the Bones of Human Bodies, with Coins and 
Instruments of War — British Monumental Inscribed Stones — Au- 
gury of Birds common with the Druids — Sacred Springs and 
Fountains — The Cauldron of Ceridwen — Casting Lots; Twigs, 
Branches, and Herbs used in Sortilege — Water in Rock Basins — 
Rocking or Logan Stones still found on the Moor — Ancient British 
Bridges on Dartmoor — Ancient Trackways and Leats of Mines seen 
on the Moor — Gold and Silver found in Britain, mentioned by 
Tacitus — Silver found in Devon. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, April \oth, 1832. 

We have on Dartmoor, at a short distance from 
Merrivale Bridge, and nearly four miles from Wist- 
man's Wood, some very remarkable vestiges of the 
cursus, or via sacra, used for processions, chariot 
races, &c, in the Druidical ceremonies. This cursus 
is about 36 paces in breadth, and 217 in length. It 
is formed of pieces of granite that stand one, two, 
or sometimes three feet above the ground in which 
they are imbedded : a double line of them appears 
placed with great regularity on either side, as you 
will see in the drawing of the ground-plan. A circle 

let. viii.] THE GREAT CURSUS. 133 

in the middle of the cursus breaks the uniformity of 
line in part of it. There are, near this extensive 
range of stones, many remains of Druidical antiquity ; 
such as a fallen cromlech, a barrow, an obelisk, a 
large circle, and several foundations of the round 

C 9 

o o c o^-o 





circle^ : 


huts or houses of the Britons. A cursus of this 
nature is found near Stonehenge ; Borlase, I believe, 
mentions one at Classerniss in the Isle of Lewis, 
another is seen in Anglesea, and we have this remark- 
able vestige on Dartmoor. 

Processions formed a distinguished part of the 
ceremonies observed in Druidical festivals. Accord- 
ing to Davies, the sacred ship of glass was borne 
along the cursus with the utmost pomp on the day 
of observing the mysteries of the Helio-arkite god. 
The procession of Godo, the British Ceres, was no 
less splendid : it took place in the evening, as that 
of the solar deity did in the morning. And the 
cursus at such moments must have presented scenes 


like those exhibited by the abominable priests of 
Baal, of whom we read in the Bible ; for in the midst 
of their wild dances they cut and lacerated their 
bodies in honour of her mystic rites. "Let the 
thigh be pierced with blood," says Taliesin. And 
Aneurin thus describes the ceremonies of the pro- 
cession sacred to Hu, the British Bacchus : " In 
honour of the mighty king of the plains, the king of 
the open countenance, I saw dark gore arising on 
the stalks of plants, on the clasp of the chain, on the 
bunches, (alluding to the flowers on the necks of the 
oxen) on the king himself, (the god Hu 1 ) on the 
bush, on the spear. Ruddy was the sea-beach, whilst 
the circular revolution was performed by the attend- 
ants of the white bands (the Druids) in graceful 
extravagance." The bard thus continues : " The 
assembled train were dancing after their manner, and 
singing in cadence with garlands on their brows." 2 

Chariot races, as well as the above-noticed proces- 
sions, were also common with our British ancestors : 
they were likewise performed in the cursus ; and it is 
not improbable that they became a part of the reli- 
gious ceremonies of the festivals. In Germany we 
know they were so ; as the sacred chariot of the 
goddess who ruled over the affairs of men, its pro- 
cession, and race, is most strikingly described by 
Tacitus in his delightful book on the manners of 
the Germans. I forbear to transcribe the passage, 
as I wish to mention one less known, that occurs in 
the very curious and ancient Welsh poem of Godo- 
din: a poem which, like the chronicles of Froissart, 

1 Hu was the great demon god of the British Druids. Has he not 
ever been the same? For what passions are more demoniacal than 
those excited by a devotion to the god of wine ? 

2 From the Rev. £. Davies's translation of Aneurin's song. 


affords the most lively picture of the manners of the 
times to which it relates. Gododin is a poetical 
narrative, or history, of the conduct of Hengist and 
Vortigern in the cruel slaughter of the ancient Britons. 

This act of treachery, the poet tells us, took place 
in the cursus near the great temple of Stonehenge ; 
which he calls ' the area of the sons of harmony/ no 
doubt in allusion to the bards. In addition to the 
light which Gododin throws on ancient manners, its 
incidents would afford the finest subject for a poem 
in the style of Madoc. The time, the place, the 
variety of character, the cold-hearted cunning of the 
wily Saxon, or of the ' Sea-drifted Wolf/ as Hengist 
is styled by the Welsh poet ; the distracted state of 
the Druid, who, casting the lots just before the feast 
begins, and finding their presage fatal to the Britons, 
fears to warn them, as he meets the eye of Hengist 
fixed sternly upon him ; the frankness and honest 
confidence of the betrayed British chiefs ; the sudden 
and fearful catastrophe, as the bowl with the flowing 
mead is raised to the lip ; the resolute conduct of the 
bards who perish in defending the temple ; the mag- 
nanimity of Eidiol (the young hero of the tale) who 
escapes at last from a host of enemies ; all these and 
many other circumstances are highly dramatic, and 
would afford materials for a poem of great power and 
interest. So minutely does the Welsh bard describe 
everything connected with his subject, that he men- 
tions even the amber beads worn as a wreath on the 
brows of Hengist ; a circumstance whose correctness 
is ascertained by the heads of many Saxon princes 
being seen thus adorned in sundry coins that have 
been found in England. 

I mentioned, at the commencement of this letter, 

136 CROMLECHS. [let. 

that there is, near the remains of the ancient cursus 
on Dartmoor, a fallen cromlech. I shall here, there- 
fore, before I proceed to the account of it, venture to 
offer a few observations respecting the purposes to 
which cromlechs were devoted ; since, though I have 
always delighted in pursuits connected with antiquity, 
I never yet could find any amusement in looking 
upon an old stone, or any other rude vestige, unless I 
could in some measure trace out its history, or un- 
derstand what relation it might bear to the manners 
and customs of former ages : for without this con- 
nexion to give it an interest, to admire anything 
merely because it is old seems to me an absurdity. 

I am well aware that antiquaries differ in their 
opinions respecting the purposes to which cromlechs 
were applied. Far be it from me to suppose that I 
could throw any additional light on the subject ; but 
as I have attentively read many of those opinions, 
and some were wholly opposite, I have been led to 
conclude that each may be in the right, though not 
exclusively, and that cromlechs were applied to more 
than one purpose ; that they were sometimes used as 
altars of sacrifice, at others as sepulchral monuments, 
and not unfrequently as a mark of covenant. Mr. 
Owen considers them in the latter view, as the Grair 
Gorsedd or * altar of the bards,' placed within the ring 
of federation. To them, therefore, may be applied 
those lines of the poet — 

" Within the stones of federation there, 
On the green turf, and under the blue sky, 
A noble band, the bards of Britain stood, 
Their heads in reverence bare, and bare of foot, 
A deathless brotherhood." 3 

8 Madoc. 


Those cromlechs under which are found urns and 
human bones were most likely sepulchral. 

All cromlechs with wells or springs beneath them 
were most probably stones of federation ; since the 
forms of initiation with the bards invariably took 
place at a cromlech, where water might be found, as 
necessary to the mysteries. This initiation repre- 
sented death> and a renovation from the dead ; for 
the aspirant of Druidism , was obliged to pass the 
river of death in the boat of Garan Hu, the Charon 
of Britain. Sometimes he was immersed in the water, 
or at others buried, as it were, beneath the cromlech ; 
since, says Davies, "it was held requisite that he 
should have been mystically buried as well as mys- 
tically dead." And cromlech, according to Logan, is 
a Punic word, and signifies ' the bed of death.' The 
cells sometimes found under these antiquities no doubt 
were used as the temporary burial-places of the bards, 
previous to the ceremonies of initiation; ceremonies 
that might differ according to the particular attributes 
or character of the god to whose honour and worship 
the bard more immediately devoted his life. This act 
of burial in the cells was considered as a necessary 
trial of his patience and his fortitude ; it was seldom, 
if ever, dispensed with, and as it took place the day or 
night previous to initiation, it reminds us in some 
measure of that ceremony of later times, the vigil of 
arms practised by the novitiate of chivalry, on the 
night before he paid the vows, and received the 
honours of knighthood. 

By far the finest cromlech on Dartmoor is near 
Drewsteignton 4 — the very name speaks its high claim 

4 Drew, in the Celtic, and drus t in the Greek, signified an oak. The 
oak was sacred to the great god of the Druids. From Drewester, 

138 SACRED FIRE. [let. 

to veneration ; and on the noble pile of rocks in that 
neighbourhood may be seen some rock basins that 
remain entire even to this day. 

The fallen cromlech on the Moor, which I men- 
tioned, derives its chief value from its immediate 
vicinity to the cursus, or via sacra of the Druidical 
processions. From its situation it is more likely to 
have been a place of sacrifice than a stone o( federa- 
tion, or a memorial for the dead. And this conjecture 
I think will not be found far-fetched, when we 
recollect that Godo, the British Ceres, on the day of 
her festival, not only had her procession in the cursus, 
but also her sacred fire kindled in her temple or on 
her stone, which was never to be extinguished for a 
year and a day. It was, in fact, like that of Vesta, 
(originally derived from the Magi) a perpetual fire. 
I have found one reference that bears upon this point 
in the translation of the ancient poems of the bards 
by Davies. It occurs in Gododin, before noticed, 
where the sacred fire near the cursus of Stonehenge 
is called the perpetual fire. 5 This very circumstance, 
therefore, renders it still more probable that the fallen 
cromlech in question, near the Dartmoor cursus, was 
a stone of sacrifice, where offerings were made to the 
sacred fire of the British gods. 

' priest of the oak,' we have the word Druids. The oak god was some- 
times styled Buanaur, ' the quickener,' before whom heaven and earth 
trembled. " A dreadful foe, whose name in the Table Book is Dryssawr, 
' the deity of the door.'" This, says Davies, " must apply to the deified 
patriarch, who received his family into the ark, and his connected 
votaries into the Druidical sanctuary." Acorns were held as offerings 
from the bards. Taliesin speaks of the " proud, the magnificent circles 
round which the majestic oaks, the symbols of Taronuy the god of 
thunder, spread their arms." 

5 Stonehenge was a temple of the Sun ; and fire was invariably used 
in the worship of that deity. 


I mentioned also that the line of the great cursus 
on Dartmoor was in one part broken by a stone 
circle. On circles, in their general character, I have 
before ventured some remarks in my former letters. 
But respecting this> found on the line of stones which 
forms the via sacra> I am inclined to think it was 
more immediately connected with the ceremonies of 
the Helio-arkite procession. The idea struck me 
when I found that Davies, in his very learned work 
on the mythology of the British Druids, so clearly 
proves that the Caer Sidi was no other than a figure 
of the sacred vessel in which the mythological Arthur 
and his seven sons escaped the general deluge. The 
Caer Sidi was, in fact, the ark of Noah. But as in 
process of time the British priests, like most other 
idolaters, blended their worship of the planets with 
whatever vestiges they might retain of true religion, 
(derived to them through Gomer the son of Japhet, 
and the father of the Celtic nations) even so did 
they transfer the name of the ark to that 'great 
circle ' in which those luminaries, " emblems of their 
gods, presided and expatiated. In British astronomy 
it was become the name of the Zodiac." 6 In the 
most ancient songs of the bards, this Caer Sidi, or 
sacred circle, is constantly alluded to, sometimes as a 
ship preserving what was left of the inhabitants of the 
old world ; at others as a celestial circle ; and often 
as the temple of Druidical worship ; and the circle of 
the Helio-arkite god is spoken of when the procession 
of the sacred ship becomes the theme of song. 7 

6 Davies's Celtic Remains. 

7 " With the circle of ruddy gems on my shield do I not preside 
over the area of blood, which is guarded by a hundred chiefs?" So 
writes Taliesin in his poem of Cad Godden. "This shield," says 
Davies, " was of the Helio-arkite god, and of his priest, having the 


Not far from the cursus there is seen a barrow, 
no doubt the grave of some chief or noble of the 
Damnonii ; as it is well known that heaps of earth 
(sometimes containing a kistvaen, or stone chest for 
the body, and at others only an urn) or barrows were 
the burial-places of the ancient Britons. Of these 
tumuli Mr. Polwhele (whose learning entitles his 
opinions to be received with the utmost respect) 
says none are Roman. That gentleman also tells us 
that in the year 1790, a friend with whom he held a 
literary correspondence opened some of the barrows 
on Dartmoor ; and found in them " urns filled with 
ashes or the bones of a human body, together with 
ancient coins, and instruments, sometimes of war." 
This account reminds us of the manner in which the 
ancient inhabitants of Caledonia made their graves*: 
for if a warrior became the tenant they placed his 
sword by his side, and the heads of twelve arrows ; 
and not unfrequently the horn of a deer, as a symbol 
of the deceased having been a hunter. 

The Britons, also, sometimes erected a single 
stone in memory of the dead. Possibly the obelisk 
seen near the cursus (which has no inscription) may 
be a memorial of this nature, and if so of very 
high antiquity ; since, judging by two noble funereal 
obelisks of Romanized British chiefs (now preserved 
in our garden) I should imagine that after the 
Romans had overrun Britain, and not before, the 
Britons inscribed their monumental stones and pillars. 
On this point, however, I shall have more to say when 

image of Caer Sidi, the Zodiac, or of the Druidical temple, formed of 
gems and set in gold." The device still may be seen upon old British 
coins. The hierarch presided in the area of the altar \ which was guarded 
by the priests and drenched with human blood. 


I come to the subject of inscribed stones found in 
this neighbourhood, both of the British and the Saxon 

I have before noticed what a fine field Dartmoor 
must have afforded the Druids for the augury of 
birds; and as I do not wish to break in upon the 
extracts from Mr. Bray's Journals, which will supply 
matter for many of my letters, before I take my 
leave of the Druids I wish to offer a few desultory 
remarks that will not, I trust, be found altogether 
misplaced. Certain it is that in this neighbourhood, 
and on the Moor in particular, birds are still con- 
sidered as ominous of good or evil, more especially 
of the latter ; and no reasoning will operate with the 
people who have imbibed these prejudices from their 
infancy, to make them consider such opinions as an 
unhallowed credulity. 

Augury indeed seems to have been a universal 
superstition even in the earliest ages ; and I have 
always thought that, like most other heathenish 
customs, it took its rise in truth ; for surely it is not 

142 SACRED WELLS. [let. 

improbable that the dove of Noah bearing back to 
the ark the olive-branch, in token of the flood having 
ceased, might have given birth to the confidence 
reposed in all auguries of the feathered tribes, a con- 
fidence which extended itself throughout the known 
world. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the 
Gauls and Britons, and many other nations of an- 
tiquity, consulted the flight and appearance of birds. 
In Wales the custom long held sway, and the bards 
sometimes celebrated these omens in their songs. 
Taliesin thus alludes to them, when he makes a 
priest say, "A cormorant approaches me with long 
wings. She assaults the top stone with her hoarse 
clamour : there is wrath in tlie fates ! Let it burst 
through the stones ! Contention is meet only amongst 
the grey wolves." 

I have noticed, likewise, that there are certain 
springs on the Moor which appear to have been 
considered with more than ordinary interest, such 
as Fitz's or Fice's Well. And where we find so many 
vestiges of Druidical antiquity, it is most natural 
to conclude that even these springs were held in 
veneration at a very remote period. Water, we 
know, was used for many sacred purposes by the 
Druids ; it was in fact essential in many of their 
religious rites. The celebrated cauldron of Cerid- 
wen (which, according to Davies, implied not a single 
vessel used for one simple purpose) was nothing more 
than water taken from a sacred fountain and impreg- 
nated with a decoction of certain potent herbs. The 
'cheerful and placid vervain ' was chief amongst 
these ; and this decoction was used, like the holy 
water of the Church of Rome, for purification or 
sprinkling. The cauldron of Ceridwen was placed in 

viil] ROCK BASINS. 143 

two vessels within the circle or temple, east and west, 
and the priests moved round them reciting hymns or 
prayers. Pliny bears testimony to the use of vervain : 
as he says it was used by the Druids in their sortilege 
or lots of divination. And Tacitus, also, gives a 
particular account of the manner in which the 
German priests practised this custom of casting lots. 
I cannot immediately find the passage ; but if I 
recollect right he mentions branches or twigs, as well 
as herbs, as being used in sortilege. Some of the 
latter it was likewise usual to gather near a sacred 

The purposes to which the water secured in rock 
basins, as it fell from the clouds, might have been 
applied, has I am aware long been a subject of dis- 
pute with antiquaries. But it is not improbable that 
the water in the rock basins, like the disputed crom- 
lechs, was applied to more purposes than merely that 
of lustration or sprinkling. My reason for thinking 
so is grounded on certain passages in the poems of 
the bards ; and if we reject the writings of the bards 
as authorities, where shall we supply their place? 
We might surely with as much reason reject the 
authority of Froissart for the manners and customs 
of the Middle Ages. Taliesin speaks of the mystical 
water as being the fountain of his own inspiration ; 
and Davies (whose profound learning in Celtic 
antiquity cannot be too highly appreciated) tells us 
that in a mythological tale, describing the initiation 
of that celebrated bard, the goddess Ceridwen pre- 
pared the water from the sacred rock, and placed in 
it her potent herbs that had been collected with due 
observance of the planetary hours. 

Rocking or logan stones are still found on Dart- 


moor, notwithstanding the havoc that has been made 
amongst them during so many ages. There can, I 
think, be no doubt that these stones were engines of 
cunning in the hands of the Druids ; who most pro- 
bably made the multitude believe that they possessed 
a power more than natural, and could alone be moved 
by miracle at the word of the priest. One of their 
tricks respecting the secret means of setting a logan 
in motion on Dartmoor was accidentally discovered 
by Mr. Bray, in a way so remarkable, that I shall 
forbear any other mention of it in this place, pur- 
posing hereafter to send you his own account of the 
circumstance. The logan was in all probability not 
only resorted to for the condemnation or acquittal 
of the accused, but the very threatening, the mere 
apprehension, of its supernatural powers in the de- 
tection of guilt, might have led the criminal to a 
full confession of those offences with which he stood 

Amongst the British antiquities of the Moor, I 
must not forget to mention the rude vestiges of its 
primitive bridges. 

The construction of these bridges is exceedingly 
simple, being nothing more than masses of granite 
piled horizontally, and thus forming the piers, on a 
foundation of solid rock that Nature has planted in 
the midst of the stream. The piers being thus formed, 
the bridge is completed by huge slabs of moorstone 
laid across and supported from pier to pier. Some 
few of these picturesque and primitive bridges still 
remain entire ; others are seen in ruins. It is not 
unlikely they are unique in their construction; at least 
I can say that, though I have visited in England, 
South Wales, and Brittany, many places celebrated 


for Celtic remains, I have never yet seen anything 
like our ancient Dartmoor bridges. They appear to 
have been placed in those spots where, on ordinary 
occasions, stepping-stones would have answered the 
purpose: but the sudden and violent rains with which 
the Moor is visited render stepping-stones very in- 
sufficient for the convenience or security of the passen- 
ger. No person but one who is accustomed to witness 

the sudden swell, the turmoil, rapidity, and force, of 
a river_or torrent in a mountainous region during 
heavy rains, can have the least idea of the violence 
with which a traveller, attempting to cross from rock 
to rock, would be carried off and overwhelmed by 
one false step or slip in his hazardous passage. So 
sudden, sometimes, is the rush and swell of our Dart- 
moor rivers in storms of rain, that immense masses 
of granite, generally standing aloft above the waters, 
will be in a moment covered with a sheet of foam 
VOI. 1. J. 

146 ANCIENT MINES. [lb*. 

that resembles those fearful breakers at sea which 
always indicate hidden and fatal reefs of rock. 

On the Moor, also, are several ancient trackways, 
together with stream-works of very high antiquity. 
Mr. Bray is disposed to consider them of the same 
date with the Druidical remains. The art of working 
metals was known to the Britons ; and the mines of 
Dartmoor, though now fallen into neglect, were for 
many successive ages worked with considerable profit. 
Leland mentions them ; and Mr. Polwhele says, " We 
are informed from records that all the old mines on 
Dartmoor are on its western side towards the Tamar; 
there are strong marks both of shode and stream 
works." Leland speaks of these, and adds "that 
they were wrought by violens of water." Mr. Polwhele 
is of opinion that the Damnonii carried on their tin 
traffic with the Greeks of Marseilles, and that the 
port Ictis in all probability was the Isle of St. Nicholas 
in Plymouth harbour. 8 I have heard (though I have 
never been fortunate enough to see any) that in 
breaking into old mines in this neighbourhood, heads 
of axes and other antiquities made of flint have been 
found: flint indeed has been the primitive material 
for most implements, not only with the ancient Britons, 
but with uncivilized nations even to the present day. 

Of any minute particulars respecting the commerce 
of the Damnonii, nothing I believe is known. Like 
that of the other kingdoms of Britain, it principally 
consisted in hides and tin. But as Tacitus expressly 
declares that Britain produced both gold and silver, 
as well as other metals, it is not improbable that, even 
so early as the Roman Conquest, the silver mines of 

8 Finkerton is of opinion that the Cassiterides did not mean exclu- 
sively the Stilly Isles, but also Great Britain. 

viil] SILVER MINES. 147 

this neighbourhood were not unknown to the Britons. 
The silver of Devon in later times was held in high 
estimation. Edward III. derived from it such con- 
siderable benefit, that it assisted him to carry on his 
brilliant and chivalrous career in France. These 
mines at one period were conducted by the Jews, 
who rendered them so flourishing that the reigning 
monarch (if I remember right it was Edward II.) 
banished them the kingdom from motives of sus- 
picion, as a reward for their skill, labour, and success. 
In the days of Elizabeth several veins were discovered; 
and that great princess, with her accustomed wisdom, 
pursued a very different policy to that of Edward II., 
for finding her crown mines had fallen into neglect, 
and that foreigners understood the mining art better 
than the English, she invited and allured them from 
Germany and elsewhere, by liberal offers of reward, 
to pass over sea and teach their craft to the miners of 
Devon. A cup weighing 137 ounces was presented 
to the city of London by Sir Francis Bulmer ; it was 
formed from the silver of the Coombe-Martin mines 
in the north of our county. 

My letter has extended to such a length that I 
must forbear to add more, reserving for some future 
opportunity what I may have to say, not only about 
our Dartmoor minerals, but also concerning certain 
vestiges of ancient customs still found to linger, 
though in decay, amongst the peasantry of the Moor; 
and, though last not least, a word or two respecting 
the life and adventures of those merry little pixies 
and fays, which though never seen are here stfll 
averred to have a local habitation as well as a name, 
and to do all those various petty acts of mischief, 
which in a family or amongst domestics in other 

148 FAYS AND PIXIES. [let. viii. 

counties have, whenever inquiry is made respecting 
them, 'Nobody* for their author: not so is it in 
Devon ; our ' Somebody ' is never wanting ; and as 
it is a being who can slip through a keyhole, sail on 
a moonbeam, and, quite independent of all locks and 
bolts, enter closets and cupboards at will, we are never 
at a loss to hear whcr it is that pilfers sweatmeats, or 
cracks cups and saucers, to the annoyance of staid old 
housekeepers, who may think that both should be held 
sacred, and that tea-cups, like hearts, were never made 
to be broken. 



Account of the Circles of Stone near Merrivale Bridge — Walls, or 
Stone Hedges, how formed on the Moor — Account of Forty con- 
tiguous Circles of Stone—Traditionary account and vulgar Error 
respecting the Circles near Merrivale Bridge — Plague at Tavistock 
in the year 1625 — Temporary appropriation of the Circles at that 
period to a Market gave rise to the Error — Borlase quoted ; his 
opinion of the Circular Temples of the Britons — Further account 
of the Great Cursus near Merrivale Bridge — Barrow — Cromlech — 
Kistvaen, or Sepulchral Stone Cavity — Origin of the word Crom- 
lech — Obelisk near the Cursus — Hessory Tor — View from it — 
Curious Rock on the summit of the Tor answering in every 
respect to a Druidical Seat of Judgment — Rundle Stone. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, April 18M, 1832. 

This evening, on looking over some notes made by 
my husband at the time he first explored the western 
limits of Dartmoor, I find he notices, more particularly 
than I have done, the circles and cursus near Merri- 
vale Bridge. I think, therefore, before I enter on any 
other subject, to give you the following extract from 
his papers : 

"October 7th, 1802. — This morning we paid a 
visit to the stone circles, which are about five miles 
from Tavistock, on the hill beyond Merrivale, or 
Merrivill, Bridge, over the river Walkham. They 
are on each side of the Moreton road, by which 
indeed two of them are intersected. The first (which, 

150 STONE CIRCLES. [let. 

as well as many others, has been partly destroyed, in 
order to build a neighbouring stone hedge) is twenty 
feet in diameter. I here, perhaps, may be allowed to 
remark, that the hedges on Dartmoor are formed of 
stones piled on each other without any mortar, or 
even earth, to the height of about five feet. These 
walls are found better in many respects than any 
others ; for, by admitting the winds through their 
interstices, they are not liable to be blown down by 
the storms which are here so tremendous; and, by 
being of so loose a texture, the cattle are afraid to 
come near, much more to break over them, for fear 
of their falling upon them. 

" Finding the circles were so numerous, I measured 
the remainder by the shorter method of pacing them. 
They consist in all of about forty : six being on the 
left side of the road, and the remainder on the other. 
The greater number of them are about eight paces in 
diameter, though one is sixty, in which are enclosed 
two or three small ones. This is about the centre of 
the whole. There are two or three of an oval form ; 
many of them have two upright stones at the entrance, 
which is generally towards the south. The other 
stones are mostly placed on their edge, lengthways, 
and are frequently ranged in double rows. Within the 
largest circle is one of about eight paces, enclosing a, 
much smaller, of which it forms a part. Close to it 
are some flat rocks, about a foot or two high. This 
was perhaps the central altar. Towards the north- 
east and south-west sides are two ill-defined circular 
lines of stone, which might probably be the circum- 
vallation or boundary of the holy precincts. 

w The account given by tradition respecting these 
circles requires some notice here. I shall preface it 


with saying, that one of the four great plague years 
in London was 1625, in which about 35,000 of its 
inhabitants perished. And this is the year in which 
this fatal malady most raged at Tavistock. The 
burials in our register at that period amount to 522. 
In the following year they had decreased to 98 ; and 
in the preceding year (in the latter part of which it 
probably in some degree prevailed) they amounted 
but to 132; the very number, save one, that were 
buried in one month (namely September) in the year 
of this awful visitation. Of this, or a similar one, 
another memorial remains in these circles on Dart- 
moor near Merrivale Bridge, (though they certainly 
are of far greater antiquity, and are either Druidical, 
or the vestiges of a Celtic town) for they are stated 
by tradition to be the enclosures in which, during the 
plague at Tavistock, (that they might have no inter- 
course with its inhabitants) the country-people de- 
posited the necessary supply of provisions, for which 
within the same the townspeople left their money. 

" That these circles may have been applied to this 
purpose is not improbable ; particularly as the spot 
is still known (and indeed is so distinguished in some 
maps) by the name of the ' Potato Market/ Nor is 
it altogether improbable that it was during the plague 
in question. For the potato was first brought from 
Virginia by Sir Walter Raleigh (the contemporary, 
nay fellow-soldier, of our great townsman, Sir Francis 
Drake, and himself also a native of Devonshire) ' who, 
on his return homeward in the year 1623, stopping at 
Ireland, distributed a number of potatoes in that 
kingdom. These having been planted multiplied 
accordingly; and in a few years the cultivation of 
them became general. It may be noticed that the 

152 THE POTATO. [let, 

discovery of this inestimable root has been of the 
greatest consequence to mankind, as it is now almost 
universally cultivated, though at first its introduction 
was very much opposed. It has been remarked that, 
with the greatest propriety, it may be denominated 
the bread-root of Great Britain and Ireland.' 3 Indeed 
by our neighbours, the French, it is called by a name 
to which earth-apple would be synonymous in our own 

"Nor is it, perhaps, to be wondered at, that the 
era of this cautious traffic should be no longer known, 
or almost as little remembered as the purposes to 
which these granite circles were originally applied. 
From our long immunity we have been induced to 
think that the plague was no more likely to return 
to us than the barbarous superstitions of our Celtic 
ancestors. But of the sons of men who shall say to 
the pestilence, ' Hitherto shalt thou come, but no 

"It is absurd to imagine that any circles would 
be formed of such vast stones solely for the purpose 
of a market during the time of the plague, though 
being on the spot they might have been so applied. 
If they were designed only to be boundaries to 
distinguish the property of different persons, a cir- 
cular line or trench on some spot free from stones, 
might have been formed with greater ease. It has 
been suggested by some, that these enclosures were 
made to defend the flocks from the wolves. This 
idea, though more specious at first, is equally ob- 
jectionable ; for if this were the case, they must have 
been built to some height, and at least parts of the 
walls must have remained in an erect position, or the 

2 Rees's Cyclopadia. 


ruins have been still found below. But this is riot the 
case ; not one stone, in most instances, being on the 
top of another. 

" It is natural to conclude then, that like the other 
vestiges on the Moor, they must have been the works 
of the Britons or the Druids ; and this last conclusion 
will presently be supported by some other remains 
found near them, and which (after mentioning the 
purposes to which Druidical circles were applied) I 
shall endeavour to describe. They may be considered 
as temples or places set apart by the Druids for the 
purposes of religion. Borlase considers that 'some 
might be employed for the sacrifice, and to prepare, 
kill, examine, and burn the victims.' 'Others/ he 
conjectures, 'might be allotted to prayer;' for the 
station of those selected as the victims, and some for 
the feastings of the priests. Thus, whilst one Druid 
was preparing the victim in one circle, another might 
be engaged in his devotions, or in 'describing the 
limits of his temple, and a third be going his round 
at the extremity of another circle of stones.' Nor is 
it unlikely that many other Druids were occupied in 
these mysterious evolutions. Some perhaps were 
busy in the rites of augury, and at the same time all 
employed, each in his proper place, in the ceremonials 
of idolatry, 'under the inspection of the high priests, 
who, by comparing and observing the indication of 
the whole, might judge of the will of the gods with 
the greater certainty.' 

"The circles above described are on the slope of 
a hill. On the top of it, which spreads into a plain 
of some length, are two parallel double lines of 
stones, stretching south-west by north-east. The 
remains of a circle are at the commencement of one, 

154 AVENUES. [let. 

where is also an erect stone. This line is 198 paces 
in length, at the end of which is a stone, now fallen, 
nine feet long. The stones that form the line are 
about two feet apart, and the same space exists be- 
tween the two rows. From this to the opposite 
double line are thirty-six paces. The last is imper- 
fectly extended to the length of seventy-four paces 
more; there are two stones, one erect, the other 
fallen. Returning from the point opposite the other, 
where is also a stone erect, after walking seventy-one 
paces I came to a low circular mound which I con- 
jecture is a barrow, with a kistvaen on the top of it. 
This I shall describe hereafter. From this circle, at 
the distance of forty-seven paces, I met with a large 
stone, which served as an index to a cromlech four- 
teen paces distant. Sixty-nine paces farther brought 
me to two large stones ; and thirty paces from these 
I reached the end, where is a stone erect. Thus, 
including the additional line, this is 217 paces in 
length. To the other, which it here also somewhat 
surpasses, are twenty-six paces ; so that these lines 
of stone are ten paces nearer at the north-east end 
than they are at the other. But, considering the 
length, they may be looked upon as parallel. The 
area between, as well as the space without them, for 
some distance is free from stones. 

" For what purpose this avenue, or cursus, was used 
it is now impossible to determine ; though the several 
adjacent remains, known to have been frequently 
erected by the Druids, are a strong confirmation of 
the opinion that it must have been the work of one 
and the same people and period. This avenue, 
which was probably subservient to religion, might 
possibly have been appropriated for the sacred pro- 


cessions of the priests. It might be used, also, to 
bear the funeral pomp of their departed brethren, 
as by the side of the south-west end of it is seen a 
circular heap of stones sixty-five paces round. This 
was probably a barrow, or place of burial. From the 
end of this line at the south-west, at the distance of 
seventy-one paces, we found another barrow, men- 
tioned above. It is in the centre of the two lines, 
and is twelve feet in diameter. In the middle of it 
is a hollow in the form of a diamond, or lozenge, 
which is undoubtedly a kistvaen, or sepulchral stone 
cavity. It was almost concealed with moss, but 
with some difficulty we dug to the depth of three 
feet; and discovering nothing thought it useless to 
dig farther, as in appearance we had reached the 
natural stratum, which was of a clayey substance, 
below the black peat. It is probable that nothing 
was deposited there biit ashes. 

"The cromlech which we afterwards visited is 
fallen, but bears evident signs of having been in an 
erect position. This, also, is supposed to be a se- 
pulchral monument. The word cromlech is derived 
from krutn 'crooked* and lick 'a flat stone;' as it 
consists of a flat stone, generally of a gibbous or 
convex form, supported on other stones in an erect 

"Many are the opinions respecting cromlechs. 
Borlase says, 'that the use and intent of them was 
primarily to distinguish and do honour to. the dead, 
and also to enclose the dead body, by placing the 
supporters and covering-stone so as they should sur- 
round it on all sides.' The quoit or covering-stone of 
this on the Moor, one end of it being buried in the 
ground, is ten feet and a half long, six feet and a half 

156 HESSORY TOR. [let. 

wide, and one foot and a half thick. Under it are 
three or four stones now lying prostrate, but un- 
doubtedly they formerly were in an erect position, as 
its supporters. 

"At some distance, towards the south of the parallel 
lines, is a circle of nine low stones, twelve paces in 
diameter, rising from the smooth surface of the ground. 
Near it is an erect stone ten feet and a half high. 
From its connexion with the circle it was probably 
placed there by the Druids, and might have been one 
of their idols. At some distance from the other end 
of the parallel lines we perceived some stone posts 
about five or six feet high, stretching in a line to the 
south-east, but having no connexion with what has 
been described. On going up to them we found on 
one side the letter T, and on the other A. On in- 
quiring afterwards* we learnt that they served as 
guide-posts from Tavistock to Ashburton, before the 
turnpike-road was made over the Moor. 

" We next visited two tors to the south, but saw 
nothing worthy remark, and then turning to the east 
ascended Hessory Tor, which is six miles from Tavi- 
stock, and is reckoned the highest part of the Forest 
There we had a most extensive view in every direc- 
tion. The sea was visible over the summits of the 
lofty tors towards the south and south-west. Towards 
the north-west, also, we thought we could distinguish 
it, as we perceived a horizon evidently too straight 
to be land. On the top of this Tor is a curious rock, 
which, from its shape, I should be inclined to think 
' was not unknown to the Druids. Its front, towards 
the south-east, was thirty-two feet. At the height of 
eight feet from the ground are two canopies, project- 
ing nine feet. At the distance of eight feet is a kind 


of buttress, twenty in length, and four in height. It 
answers in every respect to the idea we entertain of a 
Druidical seat of judgment. Descending to the road 
we reached it near a high stone post, which is com- 
monly called Rundle Stone. This is considered as 
the boundary of the Forest, and the letter B on the 
south side of it may refer to the limits of the Moor." 



Bogs on the Moor called Dartmoor Stables — Mists on the Moor, their 
density — Popular belief among the Peasantry of being Pixy-led — 
Fairies and Pixies of the Moor— Lines from Drayton — Duergar or 
Dwarfs — Their origin by some attributed to the Lamiae — Derivation 
of the word Pixy — Pixies a distinct genus from Faries — The reputed 
Nature, Character, and Sports of Pixies — Traditionary Tales re- 
specting them — Said to change Children in the Cradle — Story of a 
Changeling — Pixy Houses, where found — Lines from Drayton's 
Nymphidia — Conrade and Phoebe, a Fairy Tale in Verse — The wild 
waste of Dartmoor haunted by Spirits and Pixies — Causes assigned 
by the Peasantry for these Spirits not being so common as in former 
Days — Pixy-led Folk — Turning Jackets and Petticoats, a practice to 
prevent the Disaster — Legend of the Old Woman, the Tulip-bed, 
and the gratitude of Pixies. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, April 24M, 1832. 

I BELIEVE I have not yet said much about our bogs 
on the Moor, which, from some luckless horse or other 
being now and then lost in them, have obtained, as 
their popular name, that of the 'Dartmoor stables.' 
These bogs in old times must have been exceedingly 
formidable and perilous ; since, to borrow an expres- 
sion from the poetaster who celebrated the roads of 
General Wade in the Highlands, I may truly say of 
the Moor, " Had you travelled its roads before they 
were made," you would have blessed the good fortune 
that enabled you to cross such a wilderness without 
being lost. For even now that we have a passage 

let. x.] DARTMOOR MISTS. 159 

through it, which displays all the happy results of 
Mr. MacAdam's genius, yet nevertheless, if a mist 
suddenly comes on, the stranger feels no small appre- 
hension for his own safety. 

Mr. Bray assures me that when he used, in early 
life, to follow up with enthusiasm his researches on 
the Moor, not heeding the weather, he has frequently 
been suddenly surprised and enveloped in such a 
dense mist, or rather cloud, that he literally could 
scarcely see the ears of the animal on which he rode. 
Once or twice he was in some peril by getting on 
boggy ground, when his horse, more terrified than 
himself, would shake and tremble in every joint, and 
become covered with foam, from the extreme agony 
of fear. If such adventures have now and then 
happened even in these latter days, how far more 
frequently must they have occurred, when there *was 
no regular road whatever across the Moor! How 
often a traveller, if he escaped with life, must have 
wandered about for hours in such a wilderness, be- 
fore he could fall into any known or beaten track, to 
lead him from his perils towards the adjacent town 
of Tavistock, or the villages with which it is sur- 
rounded ! 

I mention thiS because I think there cannot be a 
doubt that similar distresses gave rise to the popular 
belief still existing, not only on the Moor, but through- 
out all this neighbourhood, that whenever a person 
loses his way he is neither more nor less than ' Pixy- 
led' And as I wish to give you in this letter some 
little variety of subject, suppose we leave for a while 
the old Druids and their mystic circles, and say some- 
thing about the fairies or pixies of the Moor ; though, 
as I shall presently state and give my reasons for so 

160 PIXY FREAKS. [let. 

doing, I consider the latter to be a distinct race of 
genii from the former. You are a poet, and have 
therefore no doubt a very friendly feeling towards 
those little pleasant elves that have supplied you with 
many a wild and fanciful dream of fairy land. You 
will listen then with good will to one who proposes 
in this letter to become the faithful historian of sun- 
dry freaks and adventures they are said to have 
played off in our neighbourhood, the remembrance 
of which without such record might become lost to 
posterity ; and as fairies or pixies often do as much 
mischief in their supreme career as greater person- 
ages, I do not see why they should not claim some 
celebrity, as well as other spirits of evil who may 
have exhibited their achievements on a larger and 
more important scale. To borrow an expression from 
Drayton, that exquisite poet of fairy land (who, per- 
haps, is not inferior even to Shakspere for the frolics 
of his Pigwiggin, in the Nymphidid) I would say that 
as no historian has here been found to record the acts 
of our pixies, I, unworthy as I may be to accomplish 
the task, will nevertheless adventure it — 

" For since no muse hath been so bold, 
Or of the latter, or the old, % 
Their elvish secrets to unfold, 

Which lie from other's reading, 
My active muse to light shall bring 
The court of a proud fairy king, 
And tell there of the revelling ; 

Jove prosper my proceeding." 

However, as I wish to model my historical records of 
the pixies on the very best examples, I shall bear in 
mind that it is usual in all grave histories, before 
reciting the heroic or other actions of individuals, to 


say something of the origin, rise, and progress of the 
people to whom they belong. Thus then, before I 
relate the frolics of 

" Hop and Mop, and Drop so clear, 
Pip, and Trip, and Skip, that were 
To Mab, their sovereign dear, 
Her special maids of honour," 

it may not be amiss to tell what I have been able to 
glean about the accredited opinions and traditions 
concerning the fairy race in general, ere we come to 
particulars. And who knows but such a task may be 
more liberally rewarded than is usual with luckless 
authors, even by— 

" A bright silver tester fine 
All dropped into my shoe." 

Dr. Percy gives it as his opinion that these 'elves 
and demi-puppets ' are of much older date in this 
country than the time of the Crusaders, to whom 
some writers have referred their introduction on British 
ground. This opinion receives no small confirmation 
from the known credulity and numberless superstitions 
of the Anglo-Saxons. Amongst other wonders of 
the unseen world of spirits, they believed in the 
existence of a certain race of little devils, that were 
neither absolutely spirits nor men, called duergar or 
dwarfs ; and to whose cunning and supernatural skill 
they attributed sundry petty acts of good or evil that 
far exceeded the power of man. They were con- 
sidered so far to partake of human nature that their 
bodies were material, though so light and airy that 
they could at will pass through any other created 
substance, and become indistinct and even invisible 
to the sight. 

vol. i. M 


Some writers have affirmed that the fairies derive 
their origin from the lamice, whose province it was to 
steal and misuse new-born infants ; and others class 
them with the fauns or sylvan deities of antiquity. 
And a very learned and meritorious author 1 considers 
that the superstition respecting fays is founded on 
the abrunceoi the Northern nations, i.e. their penates. 
Amongst the ancient Germans, he states, they were 
merely images made of the roots of the hardest plants, 
especially the mandragora. These little images were 
about six or seven inches or a foot high. They mostly 
represented females or Druidesses ; and remind us of 
a child's doll of modern days. They were usually 
kept in a little box, and offered meat and drink by 
their possessors : occasionally they were taken out and 
consulted in the telling of fortunes ; when, not im- 
probably being managed by some wire or machinery 
like the puppets that now delight childhood, they 
would bow their heads and raise their arms in answer 
to a question. These penates were considered as 
lucky for the household in which they had their 
abode; and they were held to have a marvellous power 
in the cure of diseases or pains. 

The Druids are supposed to have worshipped 
fairies, amongst their many deities ; and certain it is 
they are often mentioned by the most ancient Welsh 
bards, by whom they were called ' the spirits of the 
hills/ There can be no doubt that these little beings 
were considered as a race of genii by the Nbrthern 
nations, as the duergi or pigmies. May not this have 
given origin to the word pixies, the name by which 

1 The Rev. Thomas Dudley Fosbroke, in his excellent and laborious 
work, the Encyclopedia of Antiquities, gives a very interesting accoum 
of the fairies of different nations. 


they are to this day known in the West of England ? 
Brand's derivation seems improbable. 2 The pixies 
are certainly a distinct race from the fairies ; since to 
this hour the elders amongst the more knowing 
peasantry of Devon will invariably tell you, if you 
ask them what pixies really may be, that these native 
spirits are the souls of infants, who were so unhappy 
as to die before they had received the Christian rite 
of baptism. 

These tiny elves are said to delight in solitary 
places, to love pleasant hills and pathless woods ; or 
to disport themselves on the margins of rivers and 
mountain streams. Of all their amusements, dancing 
forms their chief delight ; and this exercise, they are 
said always to practise, like the Druids of old, in a 
circle or ring. Browne, our Tavistock poet, alludes 
to this custom, when he writes — 

" A pleasant mead, 
Where fairies often did their measures tread, 
Which in the meadows make such circles green.'' 

These dainty beings, though represented as of ex- 
ceeding beauty in their higher or aristocratic order, 
are nevertheless in some instances of strange, uncouth 
and fantastic figure and visage : though such natural 
deformity need give them very little uneasiness, since 
they are traditionally averred to possess the power of 
assuming various shapes at will ; a power of which 
Ariel exhibits a specimen, who, as well as being able 
to 4 ride on the curled clouds/ to ' flame amazement/ 
and to mock and mislead the drunken Trlnculo and 

8 He says, " I suspect pixy to be a corruption of puckes, which 
anciently signified little better than the devil, whence in Shakspere the 
epithet of * sweet' is given to Puck by way of qualification." Surely 
pixy is more like pigmy than ' puckes.' 


his companions, could transform himself into a harpy, 
and clean off a banquet with his wings. But whatever 
changes the outward figure of pixies may undergo, 
they are amongst themselves as constant in their 
fashions as a Turk; their dress never varies, it is 
always green. 

Their love of dancing is not unaccompanied with 
that of music, though it is often of a nature some- 
what different to those sounds which human ears 
are apt to consider harmonious. In Devonshire 
that unlucky omen, the cricket's cry, is to them as 
animating and as well timed as the piercing notes of 
the fife, or the dulcet melody of rebec or flute, to 
mortals. • The frogs sing their double bass, and the 
screech owl is to them like an aged and favoured 
minstrel piping in hall. The grasshopper, too, chirps 
with his merry note in the concert, and the humming 
bee plays 'his hautbois* to their tripping on the 
green. The small stream, also, on whose banks they 
hold their sports, seems to share their hilarity, and 
talks and dances as well as they in emulation of the 
revelry ; whilst it shows through its crystal waters a 
gravelly bed as bright as burnished gold, the jewel- 
house of fairy land ; or else the pretty stream lies 
sparkling in the moonbeams, for no hour is so dear 
to pixy revels as that in which man sleeps, and the 
queen of night who loves not his mortal gaze becomes 
a watcher. 

It is under the cold and chaste light of her beams, 
or amidst the silent shadows of the dark rocks where 
that light never penetrates, that on the Moor the 
elfin king of the pixy race holds his high court of 
sovereignty and council. There each pixy receives 
his especial charge : some are sent, like the spirit 

x.] PIXY STORIES. 165 

Gathon of Cornwall, to work the will of the master 
in the mines ; to show by sure signs where lies the 
richest lode ; or sometimes to delude the unfortunate 
miner who may not be in favour, with false fires, and 
to mock his toils by startling him with sounds within 
the bed of the rocks, that seem to repeat, stroke for 
stroke, the fall of the hammer which he wields, whilst 
his labours are repaid by the worst ore in the vein ; 
and then the elfin will mock his disappointment with 
a wild laugh, and so leave him to the silence and 
solitude of his own sad thoughts, and to those fears 
of a power more than natural, not the less appre- 
hended because it takes no certain or distinct form, 
and is liable to be regulated by so much wanton 
caprice. Other pixies are commissioned on better 
errands than these ; since, nice in their own persons, 
for they are the avowed enemies of all sluts or idlers, 
they sally forth to see if the maidens do their duty 
with mop and broom ; and if these cares are neg- 
lected — 

" To pinch the maids as blue as bilberry, 
For Mab, fair queen, hates sluts and sluttery. ,, 

The good dames in this part of the world are very 
particular in sweeping their houses before they go to 
bed, and they will frequently place a basin of water 
by the chimney nook to accommodate the pixies, who 
are great lovers of water and sometimes requite the 
good deed by dropping a piece of money into the 
basin. A young woman of our town, who declared 
she had received the reward of sixpence for a like 
service, told the circumstance to her gossips ; but no 
sixpence ever came again ; and it was generally be- 
lieved the pixies had taken offence by her chattering, 

166 PIXY STORIES. [let. 

as they like not to have their deeds, good or evil, 
talked over by mortal tongues. 

Many a pixy is sent out on works of mischief, to 
deceive the old nurses and steal away young children, 
or to do them harm. This is noticed by Ben Jonson 
in his Masque of Queens. 

" Under a cradle I did creep 
By day ; and, when the childe was a-sleepe 
At night, I sucked the breath ; and rose 
And plucked the nodding nurse by the nose." 

Many also, bent solely on mischief, are sent forth 
to lead poor travellers astray, to deceive them with 
those false lights called will-o'-the-wisp, or to guide 
them a fine dance in trudging home through woods 
and waters, through bogs and quagmires, and every 
peril ; or as Robin Goodfellow says, to 

" Mislead night wanderers, laughing at their harms." 

Others, who may be said to content themselves with a 
practical joke, and who love frolic more than mischief, 
will merely make sport by blowing out the candles 
on a sudden, or kissing the maids 'with a smack/ 
while they 'shriek out, Who's this?' as the old poet 
writes, till their grandams come in, and lecture them 
for allowing unseemly freedoms with their bachelors. 
Some are dispatched to frolic or make noises in wells ; 
and the more gentle and kindly of the race will spin 
flax and help their favourite damsels to do their work. 
I have heard a story about an old woman in this town, 
who suspected she received assistance of the above 
nature, and one evening, coming suddenly into the 
room, spied a ragged little creature, who jumped out 
at the door. She thought she would try still further 
to win the services of her elfin friend ; and. so bought 

x.] PIXY STORIES. 167 

some smart new clothes, as big as those made for a 
doll. These pretty things she placed by the side of 
her wheel : the pixy returned and put them on ; when 
clapping her tiny hands in joy, she was heard to 
exclaim these lines (for pixies are so poetical, they 
always talk in rhyme) — 

" Pixy fine, pixy gay, 
Pixy now will run away." 

And off she went ; but the ungrateful little creature 
never spun for the poor old woman after. 

The wicked and thievish elves, who are all said to 
be squint-eyed, are dispatched on the dreadful errand 
of changing children in the cradle. In such cases (so 
say our gossips in Devon) the pixies use the stolen 
child just as the mortal mother may happen to use 
the changeling dropped in its stead. I have been 
assured that mothers who credited these idle tales, 
(and it must be allowed they are very poetical and 
amusing) have been known sometimes to pin their 
children to their sides in order to secure them ; 
though even this precaution has proved vain, so 
cunning are the elves. I heard a story not long ago 
about a woman who lived and died in this town, and 
who most solemnly declared that her mother had a 
child that was changed by the pixies, whilst she, good 
dame, was busied in hanging out some linen to dry in 
her garden. She almost broke her heart on discover- 
ing the cheat, but took the greatest care of the 
changeling; which so pleased the pixy mother that 
some time after she returned the stolen child, who 
was ever after very lucky. 

A pixy house (and presently I shall give an account 
of a grand one which Mr. Bray visited at Sheeps 
Tor) is often said to be in a rock : sometimes, how- 

168 QUEEN MAB. [let. 

ever, a mole-hill is a palace for the elves ; or a hollow 
nut, cracked by the 'joiner squirrel/ will contain the 
majesty of pixy-land. And Drayton, who writes of 
these little poetical beings as if he were the chosen 
laureate of their race, thus describes their royal dwell- 

" The walls of spiders' legs are made. 
Well morticed and finely laid, 
He was the master of. his trade 

It curiously that builded : 
The windows of the eyes of cats, 
And for a roof, instead of slats, 
Is covered with the skins of bats, 
With moonshine that are gilded." 

And then for the royal equipage of fairy-land we 
have the following beautiful description, which is so 
similar to that of Shakspere's Queen Mab, that we 
are almost tempted to conclude, either that Drayton 
borrowed from Shakspere, or our great dramatist 
from him : both, it will be recollected, wrote and died 
in the reign of James I. 

" Her chariot ready straight is made, 
Each thing therein is fitting laid, 
That she by nothing might be staid, 

For nought must be her letting : 
Four nimble gnats the horses were, 
Their harnesses of gossamere, 
Fly Cranion, her charioteer, 

Upon the coach-box getting. 

" Her chariot of a snail's fine shell, 
Which for the colours did excel, 
The fair Queen Mab becoming well, 

So lively was the limning ; 
The seat the soft wool of the bee, 
The cover (gallantly to see) 
The wing of a pied butterflee, 

I trow 'twas simple trimming ! 

x.] DRAYTON. 169 

" The wheels composed of crickets' bones, 
And daintily made for the nonce, 
For fear of rattling on the stones 
With thistle-down they shod it : 
For all her maidens much did fear 
If Oberon had chanced to hear 
That Mab his queen should have been there, 
He would not have abode it.* 

Her attendants are thus mounted : — 

" Upon a grasshopper they got, 
And what with amble and with trot, 
For hedge nor ditch they spared not, 

But after her they hied them ; 
A cobweb over them they throw, 
To shield the wind if it should blow, 
Themselves they wisely could bestow, 
Lest any should espy them." 

I know not how it is, but Drayton seems to have 
fallen into sad neglect ; yet let any one but open his 
fairy tale of ' Pigwiggin/ and if he can close the book 
before reading it to an end, that man must have but 
little poetry in his soul. In the legend of the 'Owl* 
also, though somewhat tedious perhaps at the com- 
mencement, the terse and animated manner in which, 
in a few lines, he paints the character of the various 
birds, is such as White, the immortal author of Sel- 
borne, would have fully appreciated, had he had the 
good luck to be acquainted with that poem. 

Before I quit the subject of fairy verse, I cannot 
resist observing that Mr. Bray, when a youth, was so 
much delighted with the pixy lore of his native 
county, that he wrote some elfin tales which would 
not have disgraced an older or more practised poet. 
He then had never seen the works of Drayton : but 
in one of the tales called Conrade and Phcebe (which 

170 PIXY STORIES. [let. 

I would give here, but he says it is too long for my 
letter), I find the following description of a fairy car, 
that I think bears some resemblance to the spirit of 
Drayton. The elfin queen is about to transport 
Conrade, an unfortunate, but favoured mortal, to re- 
cover his lost mistress : — 

" Her ivory wand aloft she rears, 
And sudden from the sky appears 

A silver car in view ; 
By dragons drawn, whose scales were gold, 
It lightened as their eyes they rolled, 

And through the ether flew. 

" With Conrade in the car she springs, 
The dragons spread their radiant wings, 

And, when she slacks the reins, 
Swifter than lightning upward rise ; 
Then dart along the yielding skies, 

And spurn the earthly plains. 

" Her train, as dew-drops of the morn, 
Suspended on the flowery thorn, 

Hang round the flying car; 
Young Conrade, though he soared on high, 
Still downward bent his wondering eye, 
And viewed the earth afar. 

" As oft the eagle, 'mid the skies, 
Below a timid dove espies, 

And darts to seize his prey, 
The dragons thus, at length, no more 
With heads to heaven directed soar, 

But earthward bend their way." 

However I am digressing, and talking about Dray- 
ton and my husband, when I ought to be "telling 
about nothing but a real pisgie tale," as the children 
say here when they sit round the fire and listen to 
the legends of their grandmothers. In collecting 
these anecdotes respecting the pixy race, I must 

x.] PIXY STORIES. 171 

acknowledge my obligations to Mary Colling, the 
amiable young woman whose little verses you so 
kindly noticed, and whose artless attempts have also 
been so favourably received by her friends and the 
public. 3 Mary, to oblige me, chatted with the village 
gossips, or listened to their long stories ; and the in- 
formation thus gained was no small addition to my 
own stock of traditions and tales ' of the olden time/ 
Some of these will be given in the course of my 
letters to Keswick, though a few I must hold back, 
because having already commenced a series of Tales 
of the West, founded on tradition, of which Fitz .of 
Fitzford was the first, I must not spoil what little 
interest I may raise in any such works, by telling the 
leading point of the story beforehand ; a custom 
which, though rendered popular by a great and suc- 
cessful example, injures, perhaps, the interest of what 
follows in the narrative. 

It is reported that in days of yore, as well as in 
the present time, the wild waste of Dartmoor was 
much haunted by spirits and pixies in every direction ; 
and these frequently left their own especial domain to 
exercise their mischievous propensities and gambols 
even in the town of Tavistock itself, though it was 
then guarded by its stately Abbey, well stocked with 
monks, who made war on the pixy race with 'bell, 
book, and candle' on every opportunity. And it is 
also averred that the devil (who, if not absolutely the 
father, is assuredly the ally of all mischief) gave the 
pixies his powerful aid in all matters of delusion ; and 
would sometimes carry his audacity so far as to 
encroach even upon the venerable precincts of the 

8 See Fables and other Pieces in Verse, By Mary Maria Colling. 
Published by Longman and Co., London. 

172 PIXY STORIES. [let. 

Abbey grounds, always, however, carefully avoiding 
the holy water; a thing which, like the touch of 
Ithuriel's spear to the toad in Paradise, would infallibly 
transform him from any outward seeming into his own 
proper shape and person. But of late years the good 
people here affirm, that by means of the clergy being 
more learned than formerly, and the burial service 
being so much enlarged to what it was in other days, 
the spirits are more closely bound over to keep the 
peace, and the pixies are held tolerably fast, and 
conjured away to their own domains. 

The pixies, however much they may have been 
deified by the Druids, or northern nations, were never, 
I believe, considered as saints in any Catholic calen- 
dar; though it is affirmed that they have so great a 
respect for a church that they never come near one. 
Some very good sort of people, calling themselves 
Christians, do the same even in these days : but 
whether it be from so respectful a motive is perhaps 
somewhat questionable. Pixies then are said to con- 
gregate together, even by thousands, in some of those 
wild and desolate places where there is no church. 
Various are the stories told about these noted person- 
ages : amongst others that in a field near Down-house 
there is a pit which the pixies, not very long ago, 
appropriated for their ball-room. There in the depth 
of night the owl, who probably stood as watchman to 
the company, would hoot between whiles ; and sounds 
such as never came from mortal voice or touch would 
float in the air, making i marvellous sweet music;' 
whilst the " elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and 
groves," would whirl in giddy round, making those 
" rings, whereof the ewe not bites," that have for ages 
puzzled the conjectures of the wisest and most grave 

x.] PIXY STORIES. 173 

philosophers, to account for them according to the 
natural order of things. 

Whitchurch Down (a favourite ride with me and my 
pony ; for it sometimes is a hard matter to get him 
into any other road) is said to be very famous for the 
peril there incurred of being pixy-led: for there many 
an honest yeoman and stout farmer, especially if he 
should happen to take a cup too much, is very apt to 
lose his way ; and whenever he does so he will declare, 
and offer to take his Bible oath upon it, " That as sure 
as ever he lives to tell it, whilst his head was running 
round like a mill-wheel, he heard with his own ears 
they bits of pisgies, a laughing and a tacking their 
hands, all to see he led astray, and never able to find 
the right road, though he had travelled it scores of 
times." And many good old folks relate the same 
thing, and how the pisgies delight to lead the aged 
a-wandering about after dark. 

But as most evils set men's wits to work to find 
out a remedy for them, even so have we found out 
ours in this part of the world against such provoking 
injuries. For whosoever finds himself or herself 
pixy-led has nothing more to do than to turn jacket, 
petticoat, pocket, or apron inside out. A pixy, who 
hates the sight of any impropriety in dress, cannot 
stand this ; and off the imp goes, as if, according to 
the vulgar saying, he had been " sent packing with a 
flea in his ear." Now this turning of jackets, petti- 
coats, &c, being found so good as a remedy, was 
like a quack doctor's potion, held to be excellent as 
a preventive: even so do our good old townsfolk 
practise this turning inside out, ere they venture on 
a walk after sun-down near any suspected place, as 
a certain preventive against being led astray by a 

174 PIXY STORIES. [let. 

pixy. But pray listen to a tale that is as true, (so at 
least I am assured) aye, as true as most tales that 
are told by gossips over the ' yule clog/ to make the 
neighbours merry or sad on a Christmas-eve. 

Once upon a time there was, in this celebrated 
town, a Dame Somebody, I do not know her name. 
All I with truth can say is that she was old, and 
nothing the worse for that ; for age is, or ought to be, 
held in honour as the source of wisdom and ex- 
perience. Now this good old woman lived not in 
vain, for she had passed her days in the useful 
capacity of a nurse ; and as she approached the 
term of going out of the world herself, she was still 
useful in her generation by helping others into it — she 
was in fact the Sage-femme of the village. 

One night about twelve o'clock in the morning, 
as the good folks say w r ho tell this tale, Dame Some- 
body had just got comfortably into bed, when rap, 
rap, rap,- came on her cottage door, with such bold, 
loud, and continued noise, that there was a sound of 
authority in every individual knock. Startled and 
alarmed by the call, she arose, and soon learnt that 
the summons was a hasty one to bid her attend on 
a patient who needed her help. She opened her 
door ; when the summoner appeared to be a strange, 
squint-eyed, little, ugly old fellow, who had a look as 
she said very like a certain dark personage, who ought 
not at all times to be called by his proper name. Not 
at all prepossessed in favour of the errand by the 
visage of the messenger, she nevertheless could not 
or dared not resist the command to follow him 
straight and attend upon ' his wife.' 

"Thy wife!" thought the good dame: "Heaven 
forgive me ; but as sure as I live I be going to the 

x.] PIXY STORIES. 175 

birth of a little divel." A large coal-black horse, 
with eyes like balls of fire, stood at the door. The 
ill-looking old fellow, without more ado, whisked her 
up on a high pillion in a minute, seated himself 
before her, and away went horse and riders, as if 
sailing through the air, rather than trotting on the 
ground. How Dame Somebody got to the place of 
her destination she could not tell ; but it was a great 
relief to her fears when she found herself set down at 
the door of a neat cottage, saw a couple of tidy 
children, and remarked her patient to be a decent- 
looking woman, having all things about her fitting 
the time and the occasion. 

A fine bouncing babe soon made its appearance, 
and seemed very bold on its entry into life, for it 
gave the good dame a box on the ear, as, with the 
coaxing and cajolery of all good old nurses, she 
declared the " sweet * little thing to be very like its 
father." The mother said nothing to this, but gave 
nurse a certain ointment with directions that she 
should "strike the child's eyes with it." Now you 
must know that this word strike, in our Devonshire 
vocabulary does not exactly mean to give a blow, 
but rather what is opposite, to " rub, smooth down, or 
touch gently." The nurse performed her task, though 
she thought it an odd one : and as it is nothing new 
that old nurses are generally very curious, she won- 
dered what it could be for ; and thought that, as no 
doubt it was a good thing, she might just as well 
try it upon her own eyes as well as those of the 
baby ; so she made free to strike one of them by way 
of trial ; when, oh, ye powers of fairy land, what a 
change was there! 

The neat, but homely cottage, and all who were 

176 PIXY STORIES. [let. 

in it, seemed all on a sudden to undergo a mighty 
transformation ; some for the better, some for the 
worse. The new-made mother appeared as a beautiful 
lady attired in white ; the babe was seen wrapped in 
swaddling clothes of a silvery gauze. It looked much 
prettier than before, but still maintained the elfish 
cast of the eye, like its redoubted father : whilst two 
or three children more had undergone a metamor- 
phosis as uncouth jas that recorded by Ovid when the 
Cercopians were transformed into apes. For there 
sat on either side the bed's head, a couple of little 
flat-nosed imps, who with 'mops and mows/ and 
with many a grimace and grin, were 'busied to 
no end' in scratching their own polls, or in pulling 
the fairy lady's ears with their long and hairy paws. 

The dame who beheld all this, fearing she knew 
not what in the house of enchantment, got away as 
fast as she could without saying one word about 
'striking' her own eye with the magic ointment, 
and what she had beheld in consequence of doing 
so. 4 The sour-looking old fellow once more handed 
her up on the coal-black horse, and sent her home in 
a whip-sissa. Now what a whip-sissa means is more 
than I can tell, though I consider myself to be toler- 
ably well acquainted with the tongues of this ' West 
Countrie.' It may mean perhaps, 'Whip, says he/ 
in allusion to some gentle intimation being feelingly 
given by the rider to the horse's sides with a switch, 
that he should use the utmost dispatch. Certain it is, 
the old woman returned home much faster than she 
went. But mark the event. 

4 It has been the popular belief of all ages that no mortal can see 
a fairy without his eyes being rubbed with a magic ointment. Corne- 
lius Agrippa, if I remember right, though it is long since I have seen 
his book, gives a very amusing receipt for compounding such a salve. 

x.] PIXY STORIES. 177 

On the next market-day, when she sallied forth to 
sell her eggs, who should she see but the same wicked- 
looking old fellow, busied, like a rogue as he was, in 
pilfering sundry articles from stall to stall. 

" Oh ! ho ! " thought the dame, " have I caught you, 
you old thief? But I '11 let you see I could set master 
mayor and the two town constables on your back, if 
I chose to be telling." So up she went, and with that 
bold free sort of air, which persons who have learnt 
secrets that ought not to be known are apt to assume, 
when they address any great rogue hitherto con- 
sidered as a superior, she inquired carelessly after his 
wife and child, and hoped both were as well as could 
be expected. 

" What ! " exclaimed the old pixy thief, " do you see 
me to-day?" 

" See you ! to be sure I do, as plain as I see the 
sun in the skies ; and I see you are busy into the 

" Do you so ! " cried he. " Pray with which eye do 
you see all this?" 

" With the right eye to be sure." 

" The ointment ! the ointment ! " exclaimed the old 
fellow: "take that for meddling with what did not 
belong to you — you shall see me no more." 

He struck her eye as he spoke, and from that hour 
till the day of her death she was blind on the right 
side ; thus dearly paying for having gratified an idle 
curiosity in the house of a pixy. 

One or two stories more shall suffice for the present; 

and the following tale may somewhat remind you of 

a merry little rogue, who, if he was not immortal 

before, has certainly been rendered so by Shakspere — 

Robin Goodfellow. It is not unlike one of his pranks. 
vol. 1. N 

178 PIXY STORIES. [let. 

Two serving damsels of this place declared, as an 
excuse, perhaps, for spending more money than they 
ought upon finery, that the pixies were very kind to 
them, and would often drop silver for their pleasure 
into a bucket of fair water, which they placed for the 
accommodation of those little beings in the chimney 
corner every night before they went to bed. Once, 
however, it was forgotten ; and the pixies, finding 
themselves disappointed by an empty bucket, whisked 
up stairs to the maids' bed-room, popped through the 
keyhole, and began in a very audible tone to exclaim 
against the laziness and neglect of the damsels. 

One of them who lay awake, and heard all this, 
jogged her fellow-servant, and proposed getting up 
immediately to repair the fault of omission : but the 
lazy girl, who liked not being disturbed out of a 
comfortable nap, pettishly declared "that, for her 
part, she would not stir out of bed to please all the 
pixies in Devonshire." The good-humoured damsel, 
however, got up, filled the bucket, and was rewarded 
by a handful of silver pennies found in it the next 
morning. But ere that time had arrived, what was 
her alarm as she crept towards the bed, to hear all 
the elves in high and stern debate, consulting as to 
what punishment should be inflicted on the lazy lass 
who would not stir for their pleasure. 

Some proposed 'pinches, nips, and bobs/ others 
to spoil her new cherry-coloured bonnet and ribands. 
One talked of sending her the toothache, another of 
giving her a red nose : but this last was voted a too 
vindictive punishment for a pretty young woman. 
So, tempering mercy with justice, the pixies were 
kind enough to let her off with a lame leg, which was 
so to continue only for seven years, and was alone to 

x.] PIXY STORIES. 179 

be cured by a certain herb, growing on Dartmoor, 
whose long and learned and very difficult name the 
elfin judge pronounced in a high and audible voice. 
It was a name of seven syllables, seven being also the 
number of years decreed for the chastisement. 

The good-natured maid, wishing to save her fellow- 
damsel so long a suffering, tried with might and main 
to bear in mind the name of this potent herb. She 
said it over and over again, tied a knot in her garter 
at every syllable, as a help to memory then very 
popular, and thought she had the word as sure as 
her own name; and very possibly felt much more 
anxious about retaining the one than the other. At 
length she dropped asleep, and did not wake till the 
morning. Now whether her head might be like a 
sieve, that lets out as fast as it takes in, or if the 
over-exertion to remember might cause her to forget, 
cannot be determined ; but certain it is that when 
she opened her eyes she knew nothing at all about 
the matter, excepting that Molly was to go lame on 
her right leg for seven long years, unless a herb with 
a strange name could be got to cure her. And lame 
she went for nearly the whole of that period. 

At length (it was about the end of the time) a 
merry, squint-eyed, queer-looking boy, started up 
one fine summer day, just as she went to pluck a 
mushroom, and came tumbling, head over heels, 
towards her. He insisted on striking her leg with 
a plant which he held in his hand. From that 
moment she got well ; and lame Molly, as a reward 
for her patience in suffering, became the best dancer 
in the whole town at the celebrated festivities of 
Mayday on the green. 

The following tale will, be the last I shall send in 

180 PIXY STORIES. [let. 

this letter : it would afford, perhaps, a good subject 
for poetry. 

Near a pixy field in this neighbourhood, there 
lived on a time an old woman who possessed a cot- 
tage and a very pretty garden, wherein she cultivated 
a most beautiful bed of tulips. The pixies, it is tra- 
ditionally averred, so delighted in this spot, that they 
would carry their elfin babies thither, and sing them 
to rest. Often at the dead hour of the night, a sweet 
lullaby was heard, and strains of the most melodious 
music would float in the air, that seemed to owe their 
origin to no other musicians than the beautiful tulips 
themselves ; and whilst these delicate flowers waved 
their heads to the evening breeze, it sometimes seemed 
as if they were marking time to their own singing. 
As soon as the elfin babies were lulled asleep by such 
melodies, the pixies would return to the neighbouring 
field, and there commence dancing, making those 
rings on the green which showed, even to mortal 
eyes, what sort of gambols had occupied them during 
the night season. 

At the first dawn of light the watchful pixies once 
more sought the tulips, and though still invisible 
could be heard kissing and caressing their babies. 
The tulips, thus favoured by a race of genii, retained 
their beauty much longer than any other flowers in 
the garden ; whilst, though contrary to their nature, 
as the pixies breathed over them they became as 
fragrant as roses ; and so delighted at all this was the 
old woman who possessed the garden, that she never 
suffered a single tulip to be plucked from its stem. 

At length, however, she died ; and the heir who 
succeeded her destroyed the enchanted flowers, and 
converted the spot into a parsley bed, a circumstance 
which so disappointed and offended the pixies, that 

x.] PIXY STORIES. 181 

they caused it to wither away ; and indeed for many 
years nothing would grow in the beds of the whole 
garden. But these sprites, though eager in resenting 
an injuryj were, like most warm spirits, equally capable 
of returning a benefit ; and if they destroyed the 
product of the good old woman's garden, when it 
had fallen into unworthy hands, they tended the bed 
that wrapped her clay with affectionate solicitude. 
For they were heard lamenting and singing sweet 
dirges around her grave ; nor did they neglect to pay 
this mournful tribute to her memory every night 
before the moon was at the full ; for then their high 
solemnity of dancing, singing, and rejoicing took 
place, to hail the queen of the night on completing 
her silver circle in the skies. No human hand ever 
tended the grave of the poor old woman who had 
nurtured the tulip bed for the delight of these elfin 
creatures ; but no rank weed was ever seen to grow 
upon it ; the sod was ever green, and the prettiest 
flowers would spring up without sowing or planting, 
and so they continued to do till it was supposed the 
mortal body was reduced to its original dust. 

And of pixy legends I now, methinks, have given 
you enough to prove that the people of this neigh- 
bourhood, in the lower ranks of life (from whose 
chit-chat all these were gleaned) possess, in no small 
degree, a poetical spirit for old tales. The upper and 
more educated classes hold such stories as unworthy 
notice ; and many would laugh at me for having taken 
the trouble to collect and repeat them ; but however 
wild and simple they may be, there is so much of poetry 
and imagination in them, that I feel convinced you will 
consider them worthy of being saved, by some written 
record, from that oblivion to which in a few years they 
would otherwise be inevitably consigned. 



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J 422rj£?„ T<iristts3i. April 50/*, 1S32. 

I MENTIONED in ray last letter the dense mists with 
which travellers were often in danger of being en- 
veloped during their journey over Dartmoor, and that 
I had no doubt such mists occasioned those wander- 
ings out of the right road, which gave rise to the 
popular belief of being pixy-Ud. On looking over my 
husband's papers about the Moor, I find a very inter- 
esting letter addressed to him by the late Mr. Edward 
Smith, of this town, a young man who possessed 
considerable natural talents, and who once intended 
writing a history of his native place; for which 
/although I have never seen them) he made, as I am 
told, some collections. 

We well knew poor Smith, who died I believe of a 
broken heart; and whose sad sufferings and misfor- 

let. xi.] EDWARD SMITH. 183 

tunes were in a great degree the result of imprudence. 
But he is gone — there are many who have dwelt upon 
his errors and his faults; let me, though I was not 
blind to these, rather here speak of his good qualities, 
for he had many. Ever since his death I have enter- 
tained a wish to pay some tribute of sympathy to his 
memory ; and, now that he lies in an early grave, to 
ask for him what he can no longer ask for himself, 
mercy from the world for his errors, and that some 
charity be shown to one, who, in the midst of all his 
faults, had a heart capable of. warm affections and 
sincere gratitude ; feelings that never can exist where 
there is not at least a capability of virtue. Before I 
give you, therefore, a copy of Edward Smith's letter, 
(and it is the only one of his in our possession that 
would be likely to interest a third person) I shall say 
something about him. His family indeed, especially 
in two of its members, is deserving notice in the 
biography of this place ; and though I mention him 
here, even if it be a little out of rule, it is not of much 
consequence, for you will read the letter with more 
interest when you know some few particulars respect- 
ing the deceased writer. 

I have often heard him state that the Smiths of 
Tavistock were a very old family in the county of 
Devon. I do not know any minute particulars re- 
specting this family at an early period ; for little did 
I think when poor Smith told me, as we one day 
walked under the Abbey walls in our garden, the few 
anecdotes here mentioned, that I should ever live to 
become his biographer! He was then not five and 
twenty years old, and full of health, spirit, and am- 
bition. I remember well that he used to say his 
maternal grandfather had been the parish clerk of 

i»4 EDWARD SMITH. [let. 

Tavistock. I believe it was one great object of his 
literary ambition (and who could blame him for it, 
had he lived to accomplish his views ?) to show the 
world that he had still the spirit of his loyal ances- 
tors within him, which had survived, in blood at least, 
their change of fortune. 

I regret I did not learn the particulars of his early 
life. I know he held some station in the navy ; but 
as, when we first knew him, he was falling under that 
cloud which finally overshadowed all his prospects, 
we felt reluctance to make inquiries that would have 
occasioned, perhaps, much pain to satisfy them. All 
I can with truth say is, that his gallant brother, the 
Major, 1 (who, dying suddenly at the inn here, chanced 
to pass the last evening of his mortal pilgrimage 
under our roof) told me that poor Edward was, he 
believed, truly kind and feeling at heart, but that he 
had been of a thoughtless, warm, and irritable tem- 
per ; and by some neglect of his minor duties, and 
those forms of discipline which are as necessary to 
be observed by the gifted as by the common mind, 
had given offence to a superior, and had lost in con- 
sequence that golden opportunity which, when once 
forfeited by a young man in the outset of his career, 
seldom visits him again with the like prospect of suc- 
cess. The Major spoke this with every charitable 
allowance for his brother ; and regretted he had died 
before he could retrieve himself in the eye of the 

He also told me that Edward Smith was for some 
short time at Wadham College. I conclude his 
finances did not suffer him to remain there long 

1 Major Smith, of the Marines, who distinguished himself by quelling 
a mutiny. 


enough to profit much by his studies. He could hear 
of no situation ; and as he had good talents, and was 
a respectable antiquary, he determined to turn author 
for his support This determination made him seek 
the acquaintance and notice of Mr. Bray, who received 
him with every kindness, and did what he could to 
forward and assist his pursuits ; and Edward Smith 
ever returned his kindness with the utmost gratitude 
and respect. He thought of making his first work a 
history of the antiquities of Tavistock : it was pro- 
posed to dedicate it to the Duke of Bedford, and to 
publish it by subscription. Many names were obtained 
in its support. 

At that time he was frequently at the Vicarage; 
and we never saw him without having cause to 
remark the lively and acute powers of his mind. He 
was (what all authors ought to be) a great reader ; 
and he read aloud with peculiar feeling and energy. 
He had a strong memory, reflected on what he read, 
and possessed so clear an arrangement of the know- 
ledge he thus gained, that he could always apply it 
with effect. He had been much abroad, and could 
give a very interesting account of what he had 
observed in his wanderings. The specimen I shall 
here send you of his writing is one of the best I have 
ever seen from his pen. Its merit, I am inclined to 
think, arises from its not having been written for pub- 
lication ; for Smith as a young author fell into a 
common error, which time and a good critic would 
have cured — he thought it necessary to write for the 
public press in a different manner to that he would 
have adopted if writing for a private or familiar 
reader ; the consequence was (at least in the little I 
ever heard him read of what he wrote) that his style 

186 EDWARD SMITH. [let. 

was somewhat inflated and affected, though he knew 
how to choose his matter well enough. To say 
whether the talents of Smith (which were most con- 
spicuous in conversation) would, or would not, have 
produced any lasting fruits as an author, is now 
impossible to decide. He had certainly strong and 
original powers of thinking and expression ; but he 
died before any work was completed. We see in the 
very highest order of writers, that excellence in 
composition shows itself at very different and unequal 
periods. Chatterton, that c marvellous boy/ produced 
his extraordinary works and died before he was 
twenty. Young, on the contrary, did not produce his 
Night Thoughts till he was turned of sixty. Richard- 
son (if my memory is faithful) was about that age 
when he wrote his first novel. Swift never wrote at 
all till he was four and thirty ; and Pope produced 
his best work (for so Johnson considers his Essay on 
Criticism) when he was twenty. To say, therefore, 
what a person possessed of superior talents may or 
may not achieve, if he be cut off in his youth, is 

Such were the misfortunes, perhaps I may add the 
imprudence, of Smith, that the necessities of to-day 
interfered with the prospects of to-morrow. He was 
obliged to solicit some of his subscriptions before the 
work could be committed to the press ; and living on 
what he received, he could never find means to set the 
engravers and printers upon their task, for his work 
was not of that nature to secure publication on the 
bookseller's risk. The Duke of Bedford, I know, 
kindly sent him thirty pounds in the hope to for- 
ward it ; his brothers, especially the Major, gave him 
frequent assistance ; Mr. John Carpenter, of Mount 

xi.] EDWARD SMITH. 187 

Tavy, was to the last his benefactor; and he had 
other friends who did what they could to relieve 

But to live entirely on the casual help of friends is 
neither wholesome for the moral nor the intellectual 
character: it blunts the best feelings of a man, by 
sinking in him the honest pride of independence, 
which is as the safeguard of honour; it sours and 
irritates the temper (especially in a mind conscious 
of superior talents) and makes the dependant acutely 
alive to every petty pain, so that he is on the watch 
to take offence. A word is often misconstrued, and 
received as a reproach to his necessities, when it is 
only intended as a warning to his imprudence. 

Poor Smith suffered in every way by his early im- 
prudence ; since to add to his distresses he married a 
young woman of this place, who like himself had 
nothing. And two children brought with them an 
accession to their father's anxieties, and such an 
additional call on the assistance of his relatives and 
friends, that none could sufficiently help him, so as to 
set him free from his accumulated necessities. 

Misery, also, had been to him like the hair shirt 
to the religionist of Rome ; not a wound to kill, but 
a fretting and irritating suffering. It affected his 
temper, and made him take up imprudent arms in 
his own cause; for the slightest contempt he returned 
with bitterness. This bitter invective I believe was 
often deserved by his enemies : it was therefore the 
more keenly felt and resented ; and those who 
triumphed over a superior mind because that mind 
was in misery, soon found they had nothing to fear ; 
for the poor are generally the powerless. For my 
own part, I could never think of Smith, in his last 

188 EDWARD SMITH. [let. 

struggles with the world, without being strongly re- 
minded of the poet Savage, whose life, from the pen 
of Johnson, none but a heart of stone could read 
unmoved. Savage lived to raise a great name as 
an author; Smith died before his abilities produced 
any lasting memorial of his name: but both have left 
an example, the one in public, the other in private life, 
that (to use the words of the admirable biographer 
of the poet) *'no superior capacity or attainments 
can supply the place of want of prudence ; and that 
negligence and irregularity, long continued, render 
even knowledge itself useless, and genius contemp- 

So far truth, for the sake of others, obliged even 
the enlarged charity of Johnson — a charity that like 
his piety and life did honour to human nature — to 
declare of Savage, whom he pitied and regarded in 
the midst of all his errors. But Johnson had that 
discrimination as well as goodness, which could de- 
tect the germ of virtuous feelings amidst the wildest 
growth that may be found in the sluggard's garden 
of folly and of vice. The naturalist, in the darkest 
night, will pause to look with pleasure on the solitary 
ray of light emitted by the little glow-worm as it lies 
on the lowly turf : the great moralist did the same — 
one spark of good never escaped his searching eye. 
So may it be with all (however inferior their powers 
or their capacity) who attempt to record the charac- 
ter of the dead. For the example of the living, for 
the honour due to God, for the just demands of truth, 
no vice should be ever sophisticated into a virtue ; 
for such is but 'seeming/ But where human frailty 
(the consequence more of imprudence than a wicked 
heart) produces distress ; where that frailty has been 


exposed to suffer increase by the manifold tempta- 
tions of poverty and want, there — in the name of Him 
who was all mercy, who took on himself the lowest 
estate to show an example of long-suffering to the 
poor — there let charity be extended in the most en- 
larged degree. 

After having given birth to two children, Smith's 
wife, whose health was delicate, fell into a decline. 
During the early part of her illness, as she and her 
husband were one day playing with the eldest infant, 
at the very moment it was in the father's arms it 
suddenly and instantaneously expired. The shock 
increased Mrs. Smith's illness ; it was soon pro- 
nounced fatal ; and I have heard that distress of mind 
helped to bring on her first indisposition. And now 
the amiable part of poor Edward Smith's character 
showed itself in the most marked manner — he de- 
voted himself to her comfort with the zeal of the 
most ardent affection. So ill was she, yet so pain- 
fully did she linger on, that I have been assured for 
weeks before her death he never enjoyed one night's 

At length his wife died ; and left him with the 
youngest helpless infant. It was affecting to hear 
how the poor father, on the day of her death, would 
take the child in his arms, endeavouring to recall the 
living image of its mother by looking in its face ; 
unconscious as it was of the widowed grief and the 
desolation of that father's heart. He was relieved of 
this care ; for, as the child was so very young, a 
relation of the mother took it home. A deep melan- 
choly settled on his mind from the hour of his wife's 
death. For some little time, however, he endeavoured 
to rally his spirits; and being universally pitied he 

190 EDWARD SMITH. [let. 

was not deserted in his misery ; though he now 
shunned observation, and even kindness, as much as 
he could. But the earthly cup of sorrow, of whose 
bitterness he had tasted even to its brim, was not yet 
drained to the very dregs. His last child died ; and 
that he followed to the grave. Well might he say of 
death, as did the melancholy poet of the night — 

" Insatiate archer ! could not one suffice ? 
Thy shaft flew thrice ; and thrice my peace was slain !" 

It is the custom in this town, for young women 
clothed in white, with a handkerchief drawn through 
the coffin rings, (underhand, as it is called) to act as 
bearers at a child's funeral. A young person, who 
assisted in performing this office at the burial of poor 
Smith's infant, gave me a very interesting account of 
his demeanour on that sad day. He attended the 
funeral, though all present were shocked to observe 
his altered appearance. His eye, that had in other 
and happier days possessed uncommon brightness 
and vivacity, was now sunk in his head — it was dim 
and downcast. He was very pale and thin ; and all 
energy and spirit seemed dead within him. For 
some time he stood over the grave, after the ceremony 
was concluded, in silence, contemplating that earth 
which was about to close on the last nearest and 
dearest of his affections. The young person who 
gave me this account was his schoolfellow in their 
infant days ; and had been well known to his de- 
ceased wife. From long habits of acquaintance, she 
ventured to speak to him, even in these moments, 
some words of sympathy. She held out her hand. 
He took it, grasped it, and looked at her with an 
expression of such heartrending distress, as she said 


she should never forget ; but tears rose in his eyes, 
and looking once more on the grave, he said — ' It will 
yet hold another ! ' 

Soon, indeed, was that other numbered with the 
dead already gone before; for the blow had been 
struck that to him, I doubt not, in the end was one of 
mercy. Not long after he was seized with a fever, the 
consequence of the long-continued anxiety of his 
distresses. At first hopes were entertained of his 
recovery; but delirium came on, and all was soon 
over: for, on the 1st of January, 1827, he expired, in 
the 27th year of his age. He was buried in the 
churchyard of his native town of Tavistock. Since 
.then his gallant brother has been laid to rest in the 
same ground. 

I here give you the extract from Edward Smith's 
letter, addressed to my husband in 1823. 

"On Tuesday, the nth of August, about twelve 
o'clock, I set out on a fishing excursion to the river 
Walkham, above Merrivale Bridge. This part of 
that romantic river is situated entirely on Dartmoor. 
As soon as I reached the high lands under Cox Tor, 
my walk became highly interesting, from the peculiar 
state of the weather: being one instant enveloped 
in a blaze of light from an unclouded August sun, 
and almost in the next shrouded in an impervious 

" The weather, however, was favourable for fishing, 
and reaching Merrivale hamlet about half after one, 
I commenced; the sport excellent — but having pro- 
mised to meet some friends at Prince Town to dinner 
at five, I shut up my rod as soon as I had reached the 
western foot of that immense hill, called, I believe, 
Mis Tor, whose eastern base conjoins with Rundle 

192 LETTER TO MR. BRAY. [let. 

Stone. At this spot I was probably about a mile or 
mile and a half (following the rough and sinuous 
course of the river) above Merrivale Bridge. An 
idea struck me that ere I could reach across the hill 
towards Prince Town, I might be caught in a fog, 
but with a carelessness which I subsequently lamented, 
I determined on risking it. Up the mountain, there- 
fore, I stretched, but scarcely had I reached a quarter 
of a mile ere a cloud, dense and dark, and flaky, fell, 
as it were, instantly upon me. So sudden was the 
envelopment, that it startled me. On every side 
appeared whirling masses of mist, of so thick a con- 
sistency, that it affected my very respiration. I 
paused ; but impelled by some of those ill-defined 
feelings which lead men to action, they know not 
why, I determined to proceed — indeed, I fancied it 
would be impossible I could err in describing a 
straight line over the summit of the hill ; but in this 
I was sufficiently deceived. 

" I stretched on, and the way seemed to lengthen 
before me. At last I descried a few of those immense 
fragments of granite with which the summit was 
strewed. Their appearance, through the illusive 
medium of the fog, was wonderfully grand, wavy, 
fantastic, and as if possessing life. Although all plane 
with the surface, such was the optical deception that 
they appeared upright, each in succession perpendi- 
cular — until I should arrive so close, that it required 
almost the very touch to prove the deception. There 
were also some scattered sheep, one here and there. 
At the distance of twenty or thirty yards, for I am 
sure I could distinguish nothing farther, they had the 
appearance of a moving unshapen mass, infinitely 
larger than reality. Every now and then, too, one 


of these animals would start from the side of a block 
of granite close to my feet, affrighted — sometimes 
with a screaming bleat, as if like myself filled with 
surprise and awe. 

"Arrived now as I considered on the summit, I 
stood still and looked around — the scene was like one 
of those darkly remembered dreams which illness, 
produced by lassitude and grief, sometimes afflicts us 
with — an obscure sense of a scene where we have 
been darkly wandering on. There was above, be- 
neath, and all around me, a mass, flaky, and at times 
even rushing, of white fog — there is no colour by 
which it could be named — a sombre whiteness — a 
darkness palpable and yet impalpable — that Scrip- 
tural expression best suits it, 'the very light was 

"I bent my course onward: now amongst massy 
fragments of granite, the playthings of the deluge, 
and now amongst bogs and rushes. I became im- 
patient to catch some object familiar to me. I quick- 
ened my pace ; but the farther I proceeded, the more 
and more did the fog bewilder me. My eyesight 
became affected, my very brain began to whirl, till 
at length I sat down from sheer incapability to walk 
on. My situation was now painful, the evening was 
rapidly approaching — the fog increased in murkiness, 
and all hopes that it would clear away had vanished. 
I looked around for some large fragment of stone, 
under shelter of which to take up my quarters for the 
night. I had from exertion been hot even to excess, 
I was now shivering and chilled. At length the idea 
of maternal anxiety relative to where I might be 
struck me, and I determined once more to advance. 
Reflecting, from the boggy nature of the ground L 

vol. 1. O 


now trod, I had perhaps gone on towards the north, 
I turned directly to the left and went swiftly forward. 
The ground now began to incline, and I suddenly 
found myself descending a steep acclivity — presently 
I heard the distant rushing of water ; I stopped to 
calculate where it could be. At length I concluded 
my former conjecture right, and that I had been all 
this while toiling in a northerly instead of an easterly 
direction from the mountain's summit, and that I 
was approaching a stream called Blackabrook. The 
sound, however, enlivened me ; it was like the voice 
of a conductor, a friend, and I pressed onward ; 
the descent however was still steep, very steep, and 
this destroyed again the conjecture which I lately 
thought sure : still I pressed on — when suddenly, so 
instantaneously that I can compare it to nothing save 
the lifting of a veil, the fog rushed from me, and the 
scene which opened induced me almost to doubt my 
senses. At my feet the river Walkham brawled 
amongst the rocks scattered throughout its bed — at 
my left was just sufficient of Merrivale open to show 
the eastern arch of its picturesque bridge, whilst in the 
distance the fantastic rocks of Vixen Tor were still 
wreathed in mist. At my right, within two or three 
hundred yards, was the very spot I had first quitted 
to ascend the mountain ; and in my front that grand 
tor at the back of Merrivale hamlet rose frowningly 
dark, its topmost ridges embosomed in clouds, whose 
summits were gilded by the broad sun, now rapidly 
descending behind them. 

"The whole scene was like magic — even whilst 
looking on, it appeared to me a dream. I doubted 
its reality — I could not imagine, toiling up, then 
across the summit, then down the sides of a rugged 


mountain, how it was possible I could have returned 
to a spot from whence I even then felt almost sure I 
had been continually receding. I had, moreover, 
been full two hours and a half in progress, but still 
the stubborn certainty was before me. 

" I had actually walked up the mountain, taken a 
complete circuit of its summit, and almost retraced 
my steps down to the spot I first quitted. 

"In an instant the fog enveloped me again— by 
this time I had purchased experience. I therefore 
quickly regained the banks of the river, traced its 
stream, reached Merrivale Bridge, and on once more 
placing my foot on the beaten road, determined 
never again to try the experiment of finding my way 
across a trackless Dartmoor mountain when the clouds 
were low about it" 

So concludes poor Smith's letter to Mr. Bray. 



•Visit to Vixen Tor — The Tor formed of three contiguous lofty Rocks 
— Different appearances of the Rock in different situations — These 
and the Tor described — Difficulty of Ascent — Rock Basins on its 
Summit — Their probable uses — Logan Stones — Second visit to 
Vixen Tor some years after the first — Ascent made in 1831 by a 
Friend of the Writer. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, May 2nd, 1832. 

I SEND you in this Mr. Bray's account of a visit to 
Vixen Tor, extracted from his Journal of 1801. 

"On the 17th of September, accompanied by a 
friend, I left Tavistock early in the morning, with the 
intention of spending the day in viewing some of the 
neighbouring tors of Dartmoor. As we approached 
the first, Cox Tor, we found its head covered with 
mist; but as the horizon was clear behind us, we 
concluded it was only a partial collection of vapours, 
so frequently attracted by the lofty eminences of the 
Forest, 1 and expected that the wind, which was very 
high, would soon dissipate them. However, on pro- 
ceeding we found it was a wet mist, which soon spread 
over the country, and prevented us from seeing more 
than a few feet before us. 

1 Though the whole of this uncultivated tract of country, from Cox 
Tor, which is about three miles from Tavistock, is generally called 
Dartmoor, the Forest itself does not begin till we arrive at the distance 
of six miles ; the intermediate parts being considered as commons be- 
longing to the different neighbouring parishes. 

LET. xn.] VIXEN TOR. 197 

" Before the turnpike road was made over the Moor, 
even those who acted as guides frequently lost their 
way on this almost trackless desert, through the 
sudden diffusion of the mist. When this was the 
case, they generally wandered about in quest of some 
river, as by following its course they were sure at last 
of finding an exit to their inhospitable labyrinth. 

"Since we understood Cox Tor was principally 
entitled to attention for the extensive prospect it 
afforded, we knew it would be fruitless now to ascend 
it, and having determined to relinquish the design of 
visiting the tors in regular succession, proceeded to 
Vixen Tor, for the purpose of climbing to the top of 
that lofty rock. My friend had formerly effected it ; 
and the information he gave me of having found an 
excavation or circular hollow on its very summit, which 
coincided with the idea I had formed of a Druidical 
basin, powerfully excited my wish to accomplish it. 

" Vixen Tor presents itself to the eye from the road 
leading from Tavistock to Moreton in a picturesque and 
striking manner. Three contiguous lofty rocks raise 
themselves from the middle of a spacious plain, and 
at different points of view assume a vast variety of 
fantastic appearances. Sometimes you may fancy the 
Tor bears a resemblance to a lion's head, at others to 
the bust of a man ; and when seen from the Moreton 
road it greatly resembles the Sphinx in the plains of 
Egypt, 2 whilst the mountains beyond may give no 
bad idea of the pyramids around it 

Ridiculous as it may appear, I can never view it 
from one particular point, without thinking on the con- 

8 Mr. Burt, in his Notes on Carrington's Dartmoor, published more 
than twenty years after this account was written, also compares Vixen 
Tor to the Sphinx. 

198 VIXEN TOR. [let.- 

venient but grotesque mode of riding on horseback, 
which is, I believe, more generally practised in the 
West of England than in any other part of the king- 
dom, called ' riding double.' A horse that carries 
double is esteemed as valuable in this part of the 

world, as in any other may be one that serves in the 
twofold capacity of a hackney and a draught horse. In. 
addition to its convenience, no person will deny that 
it is a sociable method of riding, when he is informed 
that the gallant may thus accommodate his fair one, 
by taking her an airing en croupe on a pillion behind- 
him. Some ladies, who are not afraid of singularity, 
will occasionally squire one another, when they are in 
want of a beau ; and this is called ' riding jollifant' 

" From the sketch I have made of Vixen Tor in 
this whimsical view, an opinion may be formed whether 
I have any excuse for entertaining such a fancied 
resemblance. The gentleman, who has a cocked-hat 
on his head, is rather short, but sufficiently prominent 
in front The lady, too, is rather of a corpulent size, 
and proudly overlooks her husband ; her cloak, how- 
ever, may be supposed to be somewhat expanded by 
the wind ; whilst her head is sheltered with a calash. 

xil] VIXEN TOR. 199 

Even the head of the horse and the handle of the 
pillion behind may be distinguished with no greater 
stretch of fancy. 

" In addition to this, it cannot fail to attract the 
traveller's eye as being the focus (if I may be al- 
lowed the expression) or principal object of a grand 

and beautifully varied view. Before it is the rugged 
foreground of the Moor, rough with stones and heath; 
beside it is a deep valley, where flows the river Walk- 
ham ; around it are a number of hills, all verging to 
or meeting in this point, whilst on one of them the 
tower of Walkhampton conspicuously elevates itself; 
and behind the whole is a distant view of Plymouth 
Sound, with the woody eminence of Mount Edg- 
cumbe. On the south-west it is much increased in 
its appearance of height by the abrupt declivity of 
the ground. It here seems an immense ridge of 
rocks, on which stand three lofty piles in an almost 
perpendicular elevation. At the foot of this ridge are 
some curiously-shaped masses of rock, one of which 
projects for several feet in a horizontal direction. 

" On the opposite side there is a perpendicular fis- 
sure, which we found large enough to admit us, and 
attempted to climb through it to the top of the 


loftiest pile ; but the wind was so violent, and forced 
itself with such impetuosity up this narrow passage, 
that we at length gave up the attempt, but not till 
our eyes were filled with dust and moss. The roar 
occasioned by it was at times tremendous, but varied 
with our change of situation, from the dashing of a 
cataract to the soft whispers of the breeze. 

" A rock to the north-west afterwards attracted our 
attention, which from its fancied resemblance to the 
form of that animal we called the Tortoise. At its 
northern end there is a projection of three feet, which 
forms the head of the Tortoise. Under it the green 
turf is enclosed with three stones ; and this enclosure, 
from its wearing the appearance of art, first gave us 
the idea of its having been appropriated to the uses 
of Druidical superstition ; probably as a hearth or 
receptacle for burnt-offering. 

"Determining thoroughly to examine this rock, I 
climbed to the top, which is formed by a large flat 
stone, eleven feet from north to south, and nine 
from east to west, divided about the middle by a 
fissure. We discovered on the southern division 
the ill-defined vestiges of four basins, in which was 
some rain water, uniting with one another in a trans- 
verse direction. A little channel or dipping-place 
communicated with the southern extremity of the 
rock. On the other half a thorn bush was growing 
on a turf of mould, rising about three or four inches 
from the surface. 

" By observing a little circular hollow at one end 
of it, I was induced to push in my stick, and though 
it met with resistance, I found it was not from stone. 
It occurred to us, therefore, that there might be a basin 
beneath, and we began with our sticks to dig into the 


xn.] ROCK BASINS. 201 

mould, which was of as firm a texture, being the de- 
composition of decayed vegetable substances, as the 
ground below. Indeed, it was of the same black 
colour as the peaty soil of the whole Moor, which 
shows evident signs of its vegetable origin. On 
loosening the mould we gradually discovered that 
our conjecture was well founded. 

"We were more than an hour engaged in this 
undertaking; and, for want of better instruments, 
my friend sat down and made use of his heels in 
kicking away the earth. Whilst thus employed, I 
was astonished to find that with every blow the 
half of the stone on which he sat, though it was of 
such large dimensions, shook, and was followed by a 
sound occasioned by its collision with the rock below. 
Having at length removed all the earth, we discovered 
two regularly shaped basins, communicating with each 
other, whilst a natural fissure served for the dripping 
place. The length of the largest was three feet, 
width two, and depth eight inches. The smallest 
was only two feet long. 

"I have no doubt that these basins have been 
covered with earth for generations ; as in no shorter 
space of time could moss or other vegetable substances 
be converted into so firm a mould. Indeed from 
other rocks near it we stripped off the moss, though 
five or six inches thick, with perfect ease, and found 
it of a texture almost as tough as a mat, but without 
any particle of earth. That the earth could not be 
placed in this cavity by the hands of man, or depo- 
sited there by the wind, is I think pretty certain ; 
as at the bottom of the whole we found a thin coat 
of intertwisted fibres, which, though stained by the 
earth of a black colour above, was white beneath, 

mi ROCK BASINS. [let. 

and kept the rock perfectly clean. The thorn bush 
likewise, which in so exposed a situation would not 
grow unless it had met with perfectly-formed earth, 
and then would not have attained any size till after 
a long period of years, indicates that the basin has 
not been exposed for a long period to the eye of day. 

" It will not, I hope, be deemed a useless digression 
to mention what is supposed to have been the use of 
these rock basins. Borlase, in his Antiquities of 
Cornwall, informs us that they were designed to 
contain rain or snow water, which is allowed to be 
the purest. This the Druids probably used as holy- 
water for lustrations. They preferred the highest 
places for these receptacles, as the rain water is purer 
the farther it is removed from the ground. Its being 
nearer the heavens also may have contributed not a 
little to the sanctity in which it was held. The 
officiating Druid might have stood on these eminences 
and sanctified the congregation by this more than 

xil] LOGAN STONES. 205 

ordinary lustration, before he prayed or gave forth his 
oracles. 'The priest too/ says Borlase, 'might judge by 
the quantity, colour, motion, and other appearances in 
the water, of future events and dubious cases, without 
contradiction from the people below. By the mo- 
tion of the logan stone the water might be so agitated, 
as to delude the inquirer by a pretended miracle, and 
might make the criminal confess, satisfy the credulous, 
bring forth the gold of the rich, and make the injured, 
rich as well as poor, acquiesce in what the Druids 
thought proper/ 

" A logan signifies in Cornish a shaking rock. That 
the rock we visited is of this description, I hesitate 
not to affirm, as it was still capable of being moved, 
though the fissure was almost filled up with stones, 
some of which we with difficulty removed by means 
of a crooked stick. ' It is probable the Druids made 
the people believe, that they only, by their miraculous 
powers, could move these logan rocks, and by this 
pretended miracle condemned or acquitted the ac- 
cused, and often brought criminals to confess what 
would in no other way be extorted from them/ It 
is possible they encouraged the idea 'that spirits 
inhabited them, and this motion they might insist on 
as a proof of it, and thus they became idols/ The 
Druids, by placing even a pebble in a particular 
direction, might render unavailing the attempts of 
others to move the rock, and, by taking it away and 
moving the immense mass with apparent ease them- 
selves, convince others of their superior powers. 

"On a rock at a little distance we discovered 
another basin, with a lip or dripping-place to the 
south-west, of a complete oval form, two feet and a 
half in length, and one foot nine inches in width* 

2<H VIXEN TOR. [let. 

The depth of it was about six inches ; we found in 
it some rain water that seemed remarkably cold to 
the touch. 

" On our return we visited several other rocks, but 
met with nothing worthy of remark, excepting some 
fine views of the vale through which flows the river 
Walkham, and some distant reaches of the river 



" October 3. — We left Tavistock early in the morn- 
ing with the intention of climbing to the top of Vixen 
Tor, and afterwards inspecting Mis Tor. 

"We ascended the former on the north-east side, 
through a fissure of about two feet in width, made by 
a division between two of the piles. We reached 
with difficulty (for it was like climbing up a chimney) 
the top of the lowest rock, where we sat for some 
time to rest ourselves. From this, with a wide stride, 
we got a footing on the other, and at length attained 
the summit. 

" The uppermost rock is divided into two or three 
masses, on parts of which we found moss and green 
turf, which, though damp with the dew, afforded us a 
seat. Facing the east are three basins— one four feet 
long, three feet two inches wide, and eight inches 
deep ; this has a lip at the edge. Of the two re- 
maining basins, which communicate together, one is 
four feet in diameter, and fourteen inches deep. The 
other is one foot and a half in diameter, and nine 
inches deep. They were the most regularly circular 
basins we had yet seen. And from these, also, a lip 
discharged the water over the edge of the rock. 

xii.] VIXEN TOR. 205 

"Though in the vale below we had not perceived 
it, yet here the wind was high. As the foundation of 
the rock is much lower on the south-west side, we 
wished to drop the line thence, in order to find its 
height. Having only a ball of thin packthread, to 
which was affixed a small lead bullet, we attempted 
to throw it over, as owing to a projection we could 
not drop it ; but the wind blew the thread out of its 
proper direction, and we were unsuccessful in two or 
three attempts ; at last we wound the thread round 
the bullet and secured it better; but could not tell, 
though the thread was all expended, whether it had 
reached the bottom. To satisfy ourselves as to this, 
though I stood in great need of the assistance of my 
companion, I resolved to get down by myself; in 
which, however, I succeeded better than I expected. 
My friend had intimated that he should be uneasy 
till he heard my voice at the bottom. Indeed it was 
no small satisfaction to myself when I was able to 
assure him of my safety by a loud shout, which was 
instantly returned by him. 

" On finding that the line did not reach the bottom, 
and that he had no more, I requested he would throw 
down the stick to which it was tied : but the wind 
carried it away, and on striking against the moss the 
lead was not heavy enough to clear it Though 
vexed that our labour was partly in vain, I took 
a sketch of the rock with my friend on the top of it, 
to show we had ascended it. Whilst thus employed, 
he startled me by throwing down one of his boots, 
and afterwards the other, in order to have a firmer 
footing in his descent In his way down he was so 
fortunate as to recover the string, and as I had 
marked how far it reached I was in hopes, after all, to 

206 VIXEN TOR. [let. 

know the elevation of the rock. As, in folding it 
over, he had entangled it, we had the greatest diffi- 
culty in unravelling it ; and though two or three times 
we cut this gordian knot, we were afraid our hopes 
would prove vain. My vexation, which I confess was 
great, though about a thread, conduced not to mend 
the matter. However, by cutting and tieing and 
making allowances for the entangled parts, we found 
the height of the central rock to be about one hundred 
and ten feet. We returned to the road on our way to 
Mis Tor, and arrived at Merrivale Bridge. It here 
began to rain : and as an inhabitant of the Moor, who 
was working on the road, infprmed us that if rain 
came on about half-past ten o'clock, which was then 
the hour, and did not clear up by eleven, it would 
prove a wet afternoon, we resolved to wait this event- 
ful half hour, and sheltered our horses in a hovel near. 
But having waited till our patience was exhausted, 
we turned our horses towards Tavistock, where we 
arrived not in so dry a state as when we set out." 


"In the autumn of 1831, within a few weeks, or 
possibly a few days, of thirty years since the above 
excursion, I took a young friend to Vixen Tor. He 
had heard of my getting to the top of it, but that no 
one else, it was believed, had done so since. I said 
that I wondered at it; particularly as I had often men- 
tioned that I had left a twopenny piece in one of the 
basins ; which at least, I thought, might have induced 
some shepherd boy to attempt it On his asking how I 
ascended, I told him that I climbed through the fissure 
on the eastern side as up a chimney, by working my 
way with my arms and knees and back. 

xii.] VIXEN TOR. 207 

" He said he should like to try it himself, and 
would go to reconnoitre the spot. He instantly 
galloped up the hill amongst the rocks ; and whilst I 
followed him on foot, not without some apprehension 
for his safety, he leapt his horse over a wall of loose 
stones, and, to my surprise, when I saw him again it 
was on the summit of the rock. We had previously 
seen there a raven pacing to and fro ; and I make no 
doubt it must equally have surprised the bird at any 
human being thus daring to 'molest her ancient 
solitary reign/ For that she might see him, either 
from her ' watch-tower in the skies/ or from the top 
of some neighbouring tor, is probable ; as on a ledge 
of the rock we saw signs of its being the settled 
habitation of this feathered biped. 

" He had thrown off his coat, and — being dressed 
in black — what with the contrastive whiteness of his 
sleeves, and his varied positions as he sought for the 
basin and the coin deposited in it, formed an object 
as picturesque as it was singular. He said that the 
greatest part of the surface was covered with grass 
or moss upon earth or mould of some depth, and 
that, therefore, he could distinguish but few vestiges 
of the basins, and nothing of the twopenny piece. 
To see him descend was still more picturesque, as 
the attitudes were still more varied and unusual, 
rendered also more graphically striking by being 
foreshortened. To this must be added the play of 
the muscles, as sometimes he hung by his arm, and 
at other times poised himself on his foot. Nor can 
I forget, on my part, the sense of his danger, which 
gave it a yet greater interest; for I felt no little 
fear as at length he found some difficulty in fixing 
his feet, and indeed stopped about half-way down to 

2o8 VIXEN TOR. [let. xii. 

take off his boots, that he might secure a firmer 
footing. I may here, perhaps, be permitted to remark 
that we thus have some data as to the period of the 
formation of vegetable mould in basins, and on the 
tops of rocks." 

So conclude Mr. Bray's observations on Vixen Tor. 
My next letter will contain various particulars about 
the Moor. 



Pew Tor Rock — Druidical Seat of Judgment ; more perfect than the 
Judgment Seat at Karnbre in Cornwall — Basins on the Summit — 
Hindoos had recourse to aggeration in elevating Stones — Note on 
the subject giving the opinion of Mr. Southey — Objections to Rock 
Basins being the work of Art refuted — Proofs of their being the work 
of Art stated — Fastness or Stronghold of the ancient Britons — Small 
Cavern at the bottom of the Hill — Huckworthy Bridge — Walk- 
hampton — Sheeps Tor — Visit to the Pixies' House — Story of Elford 
hidden in the Cave — Excursion to Cox Tor, Roose Tor, and Staple 
Tor — Account of Cox Tor — Roose Tor remarkable — Pendent Rocks 
— A most curious example of Druidical antiquity described — Staple 
Tor — Pile of Rocks, pendent above, very remarkable — Logan Stone 
on the Summit — Interesting discovery of a remarkable Tolmen — 
The only Tolmen found on Dartmoor — Uses of the Tolmen with 
the Druid Priesthood of Britain — Ordeals, &c. &c. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, May 6th, 1832. 

FROM Mr. Bray's Journal of September, 1802, I 
extract the following account of 


"We once more resumed our excursions on the 
Moor, which, to my mortification, we were prevented 
from doing sooner by the unfavourable state of the 
weather. We proceeded over Whitchurch Down to 
Pew Tor, situated about two miles and a half from 

" The ascent to this eminence is covered with rocks : 
among which are two that project in a pendent 
vol. 1. P 

210 PEW TOR. [let. 

manner, several feet from the top of a buttress of the 
same material. On the summit of the Tor is a spacious 
area, level, and pretty free from stones, and of a form 
approaching to an oblong square. At each corner, 
which is nearly facing one of the cardinal points, is an 
elevation of massy rocks, with their fissures or layers 
in a horizontal direction, that gives them the appear- 
ance of rocks piled upon one another. From the 
opening at north-east to the corresponding one at 
south-west it measures twenty-seven, and from that at 
north-west to its opposite eighteen paces. 

"The rock at the northern angle principally at- 
tracted our attention. From the form of it I could 
not hesitate to suppose that it was a Druidical seat of 
judgment. On the top is a large canopy stone, pro- 
jecting about six feet, very like the sounding-board of 
a pulpit. Below it is a seat, projecting two feet and 
a half in the form of a wedge. A smooth stone 
supplies the back of this juridical chair ; and a stone 
on each side may be considered as forming its elbow 
supporters. At its foot is a platform of rocks, some- 
what resembling steps, elevated two or three feet 
from the ground, which is distant from the canopy 
about five feet. 

"This curious rock is in every respect more per- 
fect than the judgment-seat at Karnbr&, in Cornwall, 
described by Borlase. 1 The canopy is much larger, 
and the seat more easy to be distinguished. Before 
that at Karnbr& there is an area; whose outer edge 
is fenced with a row of pillars, probably so placed 
for the purpose of keeping the profane at an awful 
distance. Here the elevated platform answers the 
same end in a grander manner. 

1 Antiquities, p. 1 15. 

.xiii.] ROCK BASINS. 211 

" That this rock was appropriated by the Druids 
to their religious uses is without doubt ; as it not 
only possesses the singularities above described, but 
also several basins on its top. A gentleman, whose 
residence is situated almost at the foot of the hill, 
informed me he had often visited this romantic spot, 
and admired the extensive prospects it affords ; but 
had never seen or heard of these rock-basins. On 
my pointing them out, he immediately assented to 
their being a work of art. 

" But before we proceed to their examination, I shall 
request permission to state my opinions respecting a 
Druidical seat of judgment. The Druids, we know, 
were possessed of almost sovereign sway ; indeed in 
some respects of power superior even to their kings. 
For the monarch seldom dared to execute anything 
without consulting the Druids ; whose supposed inter- 
course with their deities afforded them the pretence 
of arrogating to themselves a preternatural knowledge 
of futurity. Criminals, especially those guilty of sa- 
crilege or any impiety, or where the accusation was 
doubtful, may be naturally supposed to have been 
brought before the venerable Arch-Druid. The awe 
which his presence must have inspired, increased by 
the stupendous tribunal on which he sat, doubtless 
frequently occasioned a conscientious confession from 
the guilty breast. 

"To say that the Druids erected these amazing 
piles themselves, would be to grant them the powers 
which they made their superstitious votaries imagine 
they possessed. It is probable they selected those 
rocks that were naturally the best adapted to their 
purpose, and if they used art carefully concealed 
every trace of it, in order to make their followers 

212 ROCK BASINS. [let. 

imagine that they were piled and arranged for them 
by the gods themselves. 

" The Druids may be supposed to have occasioned 
those singular forms of rock of which they were so 
fond, by breaking off parts of them, or detaching one 
mass from another, rather than by placing or piling 
them together in these immense heaps : though were 
I even to assert the latter, I might be greatly sup- 
ported by the astonishing structure of Stonehenge, and 
also by what the Hindoos, almost equally unskilled 
in arts, have been known to effect in India. On the 
tops of some of their pagodas are amazing masses of 
rock. To place them in such elevated situations, they 
had recourse to aggeration ; they took the laborious 
method, by accumulated earth, of forming an easy 
ascent or inclined plane to the top; by means of 
levers rolled them to the summit ; and then removed 
the mound. 3 

" On the top then of this rock I had the pleasure 
of discovering the basins before alluded to, which 
confirmed the ideas I had already formed of the 

2 In a letter which I received from Mr. Southey, after this had been 
sent to Keswick, the following observations occurred ; and I here 
venture to transcribe them, as I doubt not they will be found of 
interest to the reader — "If such of your tors as the drawings repre- 
sent have not been formed simply by taking away parts of them, (as 
within living memory was done in this immediate neighbourhood, to 
make the Bolder stone appear wonderful) I think the stones are more 
likely to have been raised by mechanical means, than by the rude 
process of aggeration. The largest stone at Stonehenge might have 
been raised by a three-inch cable ; and we know that the mischievous 
lieutenant, who threw down the rocking-stone at the Land's End, Suc- 
ceeded in raising it again. The Druids themselves may not have 
possessed either the skill or the means necessary for such operations ; 
but the Phoenicians, with whom they traded, might have helped them ; 
and both Dartmoor and Salisbury Plain are within easy reach of a sea- 

xm.] ROCK BASINS. 213 

purposes to which this Tor was applied. Of these, I 
counted four of a perfect, and five of an imperfect 
form. From north-west to south-east, the length of 
the rock is seventeen feet, and it is nine feet wide. 

At a is an imperfect or shallow basin ; into which 
communicates, at e, a larger one, in length three feet, 
width two, and depth ten inches. The bottom of 
this is flat and smooth. Pi\-g is a small imperfect 
one, the outward edge of which seems broken off. 
Near it, at i, is another, two feet in length, and eleven 
inches in depth. At / m is a basin, whose side is 
evidently broken off. This is three feet in length, 
and thirteen inches deep, and communicates with four 
others ; two of which are perfect, and two imperfect 

" It is probable there were many more basins ; as 
the rock on which these excavations are made, being 
thin, is broken, and the line of separation runs through 
the basins. No vestiges remain of the other part ; 
which probably fell to the ground, and may now be 
covered with soil. The workmen must have taken 
great pains not to perforate or split the rock ; as at 
the bottom of these basins it is but little more than 
an inch in thickness. 

214- ROCK BASINS. [let. 

"It seems almost needless to prove these basins 
are the work of art ; but it may be proper to obviate 
some objections started by persons who have never 
seen, or never thoroughly examined them. They say 
these excavations are mere hollows in the rock, formed 
by time and weather. Setting aside their shape, 
which is far too regular to be ascribed to these 
causes, I would ask why they are confined to a few 
particular rocks? For as almost all the rocks on 
Dartmoor are of the same description, namely, granite, 
why should some yield to the effects of time sooner 
than others ? 

" Granite, I believe, is seldom found to be carious, 
and is more liable to be rendered smooth than 
perforated by the above causes ; as by being exposed 
to the weather the sandy granulations of which it is 
composed are worn off, and the edges as well as top 
of the rock are moulded into a convex or gibbous 
form. How is it that moss and soil, formed of 
decayed vegetable substances, are found in these 
very hollows? surely if the rock cannot resist the 
impetuosity of the weather, much less can the tender 

"I allow that in rivers we frequently find rocks 
with considerable perforations ; but these are made 
by the whirlpools or eddies of the torrent. It surely 
would be too absurd to think these basins were the 
effect of the deluge ; for nothing but the deluge 
could cover the tops of such elevated mountains. 
Besides, if the weather produced these wonders, they 
would be continually increasing, and cease to be 
novelties. Can it be imagined, for an instant, that 
Nature would select only those rocks that are singular 
and remarkable enough in other respects, to add to 

xin.] ROCK BASINS. 215 

their peculiarities by forming basins on the tops of 
them ? It is strange that men will have recourse to 
miracles to account for what may be explained by 
such simple means. 

"By standing at the north-west opening, you have 
a perspective view of the four bastions, if I may be 
allowed the expression, and a distant prospect of 
Plymouth Sound. This curious Tor here wears so 
regular an appearance, that one might almost as 
easily assent to its being a work of art as of Nature : 
possibly it partakes of both. The area may be sup- 
posed to have been cleared, as there are only five or 
six stones within it ; which probably served as altars. 
The four openings also seem to have been partly 
owing to art. But if the whole be the work of Nature, 
every one must allow that she has for once deviated 
from her accustomed plan. 

" It is not improbable that this spot was used as a 
fastness, or stronghold, by the ancient Britons ; and, 
with very little addition, it might now be rendered 
impregnable even to the improved system of warfare- 
of the present day. A spot of this kind, whence is 
so extensive a view of the sea, and whence might be 
descried the approach of the enemy in every direc- 
tion, could not surely have been entirely neglected ; 
and it is well known that one and the same place 
was frequently converted to the purposes both of 
religion and war. 

"We had been informed that at the bottom of the 
hill there was a curious cavern, which however by no 
means answered the expectations we had formed of 
it. The aperture, which is about four feet long and 
two wide, might be easily taken for the entrance of a 
rabbit burrow. With some difficulty we entered this 

216 PIXY GROT. [let.: 

narrow passage, and found an excavation about four- 
teen feet in length, eight in width and five in height; 
It terminated in a narrow hole; and was probably* 
the adit to a mine, or part of a. stream-work ; as . 
in the same direction there are several pits close 
to it, which seem to have been opened in search 
of metal. I apprehend it has not unfrequently been 
used by smugglers, as a secret deposit for their 

" In our way to Walkhampton, after descending a 
most precipitous road, we passed over Huck worthy 
Bridge, around which are a few cottages partially 
concealed with trees. On ascending the opposite hill 
we had a very picturesque view of this rural bridge, 
with its arches partly covered with ivy, bestriding a 
rocky river that owes its source to Dartmoor ; one of 
whose lofty tors closed this romantic scene. At Walk- 
hampton, which is a small village, we gained directions 
to Sheeps Tor, where we had heard there was an 
excavation called the 'Pixies.' Grot/ and to Stanlake, 
near which we were informed the Dock-leat 3 formed 
a fine cascade. 

"After passing overcome downs or commons of. 
no great extent we entered a road, at the bend of 
which we had a view of Sheeps Tor, with its rocky 
summit peering over a bridge almost covered with 
ivy. The banks of the rivulet beneath it were 
fringed with willows ; whilst beyond the ivied arch 
appeared the tops of some lofty trees, which waved 
their branches ov6r tlje roofs of the cottages that 
were visible between them. On reaching the little 
hamlet of Sheeps Tor, wfc were informed by the 
matron, whom from her age and appearance we 

8 Leat is used in Devonshire to signify a stream of water. 

xiilJ SHEEPS TOR. 217 

denominated the Septuagenarian Sibyl, that we might 
easily find out the 'pixies* house/ where we should 
be careful to leave a pin, or something of equal value, 
as an offering to these invisible beings ; otherwise 
they would not fail to torment us in our sleep. After 
thanking the good dame for her advice and informa- 
tion, we proceeded in search of it 

" By making a circuit we rode to the very summit 
of this lofty Tor, on which is a spacious area of green 
turf. We searched for some time amid this labyrinth 
of rocks for the residence of the pixies, but in vain, 
and lamented we had not taken a guide. We deter- 
mined, however, to make a complete survey of the 
Tor on foot, thinking that at least we should be 
recompensed by the sight of the distant scenery, or 
the nearer picturesque formation of the rocks. 

" In the vale below, the little tower of the village to 
which this eminence gives its name forms a pleasing 
object. To the west is an extensive horizon ; the 
north is bounded by other equally lofty tors, one of 
which is almost in the form of a regular cone or 
pyramid. Below strays a little winding rivulet, con- 
tent to wash the foot of the haughty mountain. 4 

"At the north side of the Tor we discovered a 
narrow fissure, amid some large and lofty rocks ; and 
imagining we had at last found the object of our 
search, squeezed ourselves into it with no little diffi- 
culty. The fissure was equally narrow all the way ; 
and as it took an angular direction, we got out with 
as much labour on the other side. We did not, 
however, follow the recommendation of our aged 
informant, as we agreed that Oberon and his queen 

4 The leat that supplies Plymouth with its waters begins not far dis- 
tant from the base of this tor. 

218 SHEEPS TOR. [let. 

Titan ia never could condescend to honour this spot 
with their presence. 

"On returning for our horses, we discovered near 
the top of the Tor two stone ridges, almost covered 
with turf, that intersected each other nearly at right 
angles, and formed a cross. In the middle was a flat 
horizontal stone. Measuring from this central point, 
the ridge to the east was twelve paces, west six, north 
seven, and south eleven. We afterwards discovered 
a larger one below, at the south side of the Tor. At 
first we conjectured they were sepulchral monuments; 
and afterwards thought they might have been folds 
for sheep ; which at the same time was endeavouring 
to account for the name of the mountain. But after 
all, these conjectures are entitled to little attention ; 
as nothing can be accurately decided without more 
minute examination than we were then capable of 

"We returned to the village little satisfied with 
our excursion ; but on inquiry found, notwithstanding 
all our search, that we had failed in discovering the 
wonderful grotto. With a little boy for our guide, 
we again ascended the mountain. Leaving .our 
horses below, we followed our conductor over some 
rugged rocks, till he came to one in which was a 
narrow fissure. On his telling us this was the en- 
trance we laughed, and said none but the pixies and 
himself could enter it ; but on his assuring us it was 
the spot, I resolved to make the attempt With great 
difficulty I succeeded, and found a hollow about six 
feet long, four wide, and five feet. high. It was 
formed by two rocks resting in a slanting position 
against another in a perpendicular direction. The 
cavity was certainly singularly regular, and had 

xiii. I COX TOR. 2i£ 

somewhat the form of a little hovel. A rock served 
for a seat, and the posture of sitting was the only 
one in which I could find myself at ease. A noise 
occasioned by the dripping of water is distinctly 
heard ; and as the cause of it is out of sight, it pro- 
duces at first a sensation somewhat approaching to 
surprise, till reflection tells us the occasion of it r 
which might possibly have prepared the mind to 
imagine it the resort of invisible beings. 5 

"We now returned about a mile and a half, and 
turning to the right, went in search of the cascade ; 
which, as well as the cave just mentioned, is beyond 
measure indebted to the exaggerating tongue of fame. 
This is produced by the Dock-leat, flowing from the 
side of a hill across a little rivulet, over a bridge or 
aqueduct. The effect is not in the least picturesque, 
and by no means recompensed us for our trouble." 

The following is extracted from Mr. Bray's Journal 
of the same year, written a few days after the above. 


" On ascending Cox Tor, which is on the left of 
the Moreton road, we observed several ridges, some 
of which are of a circular form. They do not seem 

5 The Rev. Mr. Polwhele, in his Devon, notices it, and in a note 
gives the following extract from a correspondent : — "Here, I am in- 
formed, Elford used to hide himself from the search of Cromweirs 
party, to whom he was obnoxious. Hence he could command the 
whole country ; and having some talents for painting, he amused 
himself with that art on the walls of his cavern, which I have been 
told (says Mr. Yonge of Puslinch) by an elderly gentleman who had 
visited this place, was very fresh in his time. The country people have 
many superstitious notions respecting this hole." None of the paint* 
ings now remain on the sides of the rock. 

6 Cox Tor ; possibly so called from the heath-cock, formerly very 
plentiful on Dartmoor. 

220 COX TOR. [let.: 

however to be of Druidical origin, as they are too 
irregular, and are principally formed of mounds of 
earth ; whereas the circles of the Druids were gene- 
rally constructed of stones alone. They possibly 
may be the remains of enclosures to defend the sheep 
from the wolves, which at an early period are said to 
have been very numerous on the Forest. 

"Towards the south of the Tor is an inclosure of 
this description of an oblong form ; at the end of 
Which is a singular rock, with two lines or fissures on 
its side, in the form of a cross. Hence is a grand 
and extensive view of the sea, the blue hills of 
Cornwall, the town of Tavistock situated in a deep 
valley, the lofty eminence of Brent Tor and the dis-: 
tant horizon beyond it. The top of Cox Tor spreads 
into a kind of plain ; in the middle of which is a 
rocky prominence, that appears to have been a place 
of defence. Around it we traced the ruins of a 
circular wall. The foundations of a small building 
within it, eleven feet by eight, were plainly visible, as 
the walls were about four feet high. The entrance 
and fire-place could be clearly distinguished. By the 
side of it was a mound of stones, which is the loftiest 
point of the Tor, and probably was used as a beacon 
or signal-post. 

" The declivitous sides of this Tor, to the north 
and east, are covered with either mole or ant-hills, as 
contiguous to one another as they can possibly be 
placed. We remarked, however, a few lines or belts 
without any, and on approaching these spots, found 
them wet and swampy. It is singular that this is the 
only Tor we have yet seen that possesses these ex- 
crescences. They seem to indicate a depth, and con- 
sequently comparative richness, of .soil. Farther to 

xiii.] ROOSE TOR. 2U 

the north is a mound of stones of a circular form, 
with a deep concavity in the middle. The circum- 
ference of this ridge measures twenty-nine paces. The 
stones of which it is composed are thickly covered 
with moss. At a little distance from it is a cairn, or 
heap of stones, flat at the top. 

"Descending this mountain we crossed a narrow 
valley, and mounted the side of another Tor in a 
north-east direction. After passing near some pits or 
trenches, which we imagine are the vestiges of stream 
works, we met with an aged shepherd, who was col- 
lecting his flock, and informed us the hill we were 

ascending was 


" This name may possibly be derived from Rhds or 
Rdo y signifying in Welsh and Cornish, a 'heathy 
mountain/ At present, however, there is no heath 
near it ; and indeed scarcely any is to be seen on the 
whole Forest, as it is constantly burnt almost as soon 
as it appears. By this means the heath-polts, which 
were here numerous, are nearly extirpated, whilst the 
sheep are benefited by the rich pasture that succeeds. 
The south side of the Tor has a grand and picturesque 
appearance. Two immense piles of rocks are of so 
pendent a form as to threaten every instant to fall 
upon the beholder. One of them is supported on its 
two extremities, about a couple of feet from the 
ground, by some low rocks, and seems as if it had 
been bent in the middle by its own weight And this 
probably was the case, for a perpendicular fissure or 
hiatus, that extends from the convexity of the base 
into the body of the lower stratum, proves that rocks, 
on their formation, must have been of a soft, yielding 

:ZZ2 STAPLE TOR. [let. 

"This first group of rbcks showed no symptoms of 
art ; but on another pile, which was fifteen feet high, 
we found two basins — one two feet by one and a 
half; the other one foot in diameter. The rock con- 
sisted of seven layers, and the basins were on the 
stone next to the top, which was small. Another pile, 
though much lower, we ascended with the greatest 
.difficulty. On the top of it were a few imperfect basins. 
But a mass of rocks near the latter afforded us a very 
curious specimen of the works of the Druids. 


On the uppermost stone of the mass we dis- 
covered a basin, in depth a foot and a quarter, with 
smaller ones surrounding it, and little channels com- 
municating with others in a serpentine direction. On 
this Tor we found a sheepfold between some rocks, 
which were serviceable in the formation, of it ; and 
were informed by another shepherd that it was still 
used. A Tor, it seems, is generally appropriated to 
a particular flock. Hence we proceeded to 


probably corrupted from Steeple Tor, as it has two or 
three piles of rock df a considerable height. On asking 
the old shepherd whether he thought we could climb 
them, he laughed at the idea. However, we deter- 
mined to ascend the lowest first, which we did with 

juil] STAPLE TOR. 223 

no great difficulty, and discovered on it a basin a foot 
and a half in diameter and one foot deep. This, 
contrary to all we had hitherto seen, was full of dirty 
water, which was probably occasioned by decayed 
moss. Over it hung a loftier pile, which we resolved 
to ascend as high as we could, without much hope of 
reaching the top. My friend, however, got to the 
very summit, on which he informed me was a wide 
but shallow basin. I followed him till I reached the 

third stone from the top, which I could feel with my 
hand, but was unable to summon resolution enough 
to ascend higher. 

" Whilst I was leaning with my breast against the 
stone, he moved from his position, and I felt the rock 
shake under him. On my mentioning this circum- 
stance he did not seem to give it credit; but 1 soon 
convinced him by shaking it myself, till with some 
degree of apprehension he requested me to desist. 

" I begged he would continue on the top, till I had 
descended and taken a sketch of it, with himself on 
the summit; but first gave him a plumb-line to let 
down, and we found he was elevated thirty feet. 
-He not only stood upright, but stretched out his 

214 STAPLE TOR. [let. 

hands and foot in the position of Mercury, and 
seemed rather like a statue on the top of a lofty 
column than a human being on the summit of a 
natural rock. Besides its elevation, it hangs consider- 
ably out of the perpendicular ; which so blended 

the feelings of fear for my friend and surprise at his 
firmness, that I felt the most indescribable sensations, 
and my fingers could scarcely hold the pencil. 

" I again made an attempt to join him, but halted 
in my former situation ; and the more he endeavoured 
to encourage me, added to my own attempts to 
overcome it, the more the perturbation of my mind 
increased ; and, unable to bear it longer, I again de- 
scended. On letting himself down, I was obliged to 
direct my companion where to place his feet Had 
he missed his hold, it would have been instant de- 
struction. As he was now on the same spot where 
I had stood, I requested he would move the rock, 
thinking he could do it with greater ease, as he is 
much stronger than myself, and the rock must have 
been rendered somewhat lighter by his having re- 


moved from it. But my' astonishment was great at 
his assuring me he could not move it in the least 
This convinced us he must have acted as a poise ; 
which was confirmed afterwards by our examining 
the inclination of the rock, and the point on which 
he stood. As one part of the rock projected con- 
siderably, it required something on the opposite side 
to balance it, and when this was removed it destroyed 
the libration ; so that there was less danger of its 
falling when he was on it than otherwise. When he 
was half-way down, the shepherd again joined us, 
with the laugh of stupid wonder, and saying he had 
observed him on the top, asked how he could possibly 
get down. 

"On the same group of rocks is a singular 
Druidical monument, or tolmen, for such I am con- 
vinced it is. The word is composed of tot, a hole, 
and min, a rock, in the Cornish language. After a 
description of this, which is different from any men- 
tioned by Borlase, we will consider the purposes to 

VOL, I, Q 

2i6 TOLMEN. [let. 

which works of this description were applied. On 
the top of a rock, with a flat surface, a stone, nine 
feet long, and six wide, is supported by two other 
stones. One of the supports is placed on the very 
edge of the rock. Neither point of bearing is an 
inch in thickness, so that in all appearance a slight 
effort would remove it. Through this aperture I 
crept, not without apprehension, and took especial 
care not to touch its supporter even in the slightest 

"The tolmen is denominated by Borlase a stone 
deity. By going under the rock, or through the 
passage formed by it, he thinks one acquired a degree 
of holiness ; or that it was used to prepare for and 
initiate into the mysteries of Druidism, their future 
votaries. Some, too, he says, might be resorted to 
by people troubled with particular diseases, who by 
going through these passages left their complaints 
behind them/ 

"After all, however, it is probable that this rock 
cannot come under such denomination, as tolmens in 
general are large orbicular rocks, supported from the 
ground by two small ones. And as nothing similar 

' "Creeping under tolmens for the cure of diseases is still prac- 
tised in Ireland, and also in the East, as is shown by Mrs. Colonel 
Elwood in her travels." — GaUlanun's Magaane, July, 1831. 

xiii.] VIXEN TOR. 227 

to it is to be found in Borlase's account of Druidical 
remains in Cornwall, I may be allowed, perhaps, to 
indulge my own conjectures. 

" I am inclined, then, to think that this was de- 
signed as a kind of moral touchstone. The Druids 
might lead the accused to the spot, point out to him 
the apparently tottering rock, and by threatening to 
make him pass under it, when if guilty it would fall 
and crush him, extract from the delinquent the con- 
fessions of his fear. We know, though Borlase has 
unaccountably overlooked it, that ordeals of various 
kinds were used by the ancient inhabitants of this 
kingdom; and the rock ordeal maybe supposed as 
effectual as any other. After examining some more 
rocks, where we found nothing remarkable, we re- 
turned, with the determination of soon visiting Mis 
Tor, which is the next to the north-east, and which 
our good shepherd informed us was the most curious 
on the Moor, and that we should there meet with 
what was called Mis Tor Pan: this we concluded 
must be a Druidical basin of a large size. 

" I may here observe, that Vixon, or Vixen Tor, 
described in a former excursion, receives its name, 
as I am told, from vixen, the female of a fox ; these 
animals resorting there from a neighbouring wood, 
near the Walkham, to breed among the hollows of 
the rocks. ,, 

In my next letter I propose giving you several 
other extracts from Mr. Bray's Journals. 



Mis Tor described — Tumuli and Circles near Mis Tor — Ashes found in 
the Circles — Barrows — Stream-work, &c — Brent Tor — Beacon 
station with the Ancient Britons — Account of this most conspicuous 
and remarkable Tor — Church on the very top of it — Its commanding 
station — Legend respecting it — Another Tale respecting its Founda- 
tion — Most probable Tradition concerning its Erection — Brent Tor 
a striking Object at a distance — Camden's notice of the Gubbins, a 
rude race of Men inhabiting a neighbouring Village — Wherefore 
called Cramp-eaters — Longevity, instance of it in Elizabeth Williams 
— Geology of Brent Tor. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, May 10th, 1832. 

I SEND you in this Mr. Bray's account of an excursion, 
made in the same year as the former, to 


" This tor, which is situated about five miles from 
Tavistock, we visited to view the pan already men- 
tioned. 1 It lies to the left of the Moreton road, 
near the river Walkham. A small rock, or tor, 
probably Little Mis Tor, is near it : this we ascended. 
It had nothing but its natural yet regular appear- 
ance, almost like that of masonry, to attract our 

"On continuing our ride hence, we found the 

1 The popular legend respecting Mis Tor Pan is, that it was formed 
by the devil, and used by him as a frying-pan on particular occasions. 

LET. XIV.] MIS TOR. 30$ 

ground swampy, and before we reached Great Mis 
Tor crossed a stream-work of considerable extent. 
Here there are four or five masses of regularly piled 
rocks, on one of which, about the centre of the Tor, 
is a basin, the largest we had yet seen, three feet in 
diameter and six inches in depth. The bottom was 
flat and smooth. It had a lip, with a channel to the 
north-east Near it on the same ridge is a singularly 
formed rock ; from its appearance we concluded it 

was a logan stone, but tried- in vain to move it. We 
examined every part of the Tor but could find no 
other work of art : if there ever had been any, it was 
probably destroyed some years ago by the lawless 
rout of idle young men, who sallied out and purposely 
overthrew every rock they were able to move in this 
neighbourhood. Whilst we were employed in these 
investigations we sheltered ourselves from a shower 
of rain, by entering a chasm amid the rocks, and made 
them echo with the voice of song." 

The next extract is from the same Journal, kept 
by Mr. Bray during his excursions on the Moor. 

230 MIS TOR. [let. 


" Having occasion to pass over Dartmoor, without 
any intention of renewing my researches on it at that 
time, I thought I observed as I ascended Merrivale 
hill, a mound or two at the left hand, at some 
distance from the road. It was rather remarkable 
they had not before attracted my notice, particularly 
as, in our last excursion, I cast my eyes over it in 
doubt whether I should examine it more minutely 
or not. 

" As I was not much straitened for time, I directed 
my course to the spot, which is an enclosure, and 
found the first barrow I came to was of an oblong 
square, thirty-five paces round the base, with shelving 
sides and flat at the top. It was covered with moss, 
rushes, and grass, and had a broad but shallow trench 
around it. It stretched east and west, or rather 
north-east and south-west. Another near it was of 
the same dimensions. A little beyond this was one 
thirty-seven paces round. They all pointed to the 
same quarter of the heavens. At a distance I per- 
ceived several others, and determined to return to my 
horse, which I had fixed to the hedge, and ride to 
them. I was convinced, from their shape and situation, 
that they were barrows or tumuli, which were in 
remote ages receptacles of the dead. 

"Owing to enclosures I was obliged to return 
to the turnpike road, and near the circles above- 
mentioned found a man employed in building a hut, 
the foundations of which I had before remarked. 
He informed me that he had a grant from Mr. Lopes " 
(the late Sir M. Lopes) " of several acres around, and 
intended to reside there with his family. On my 

xiv.] MIS TOR. 231 

asking him what he imagined the circles were de- 
signed for, he repeated the old story, that they were 
used as a market during the plague at Tavistock, the 
account of which he traced back to his great grand- 
father. He told me he would show me the spot 
where the market-house stood, together with the 
wraxelling ring, or place appropriated for wrestling. 
The circles he conceived were boot/is ; and said he, 
' To prove they were, I Ve found many of their fire- 
places with ashes in them.' 

" This alone was wanting to corroborate my opinion 
of their being used by the Druids in their sacrifices, 
or as dwellings by the aboriginal inhabitants of the 
Forest. He promised me he would let me know when 
he had discovered any more. On accusing him of 
having destroyed some of the circles, he said the 
stones were very handy for him, and he did not know 
what use they now were. But on my informing him that 
I should endeavour to bring them into notice, which 
might possibly induce the curious to visit them, and 
that if he acted as their guide he might meet with 
some remuneration, he promised he would restrain 
his destroying hand. On finding he had resided for 
most part of his life near Vixen Tor, I asked whether 
he had ever been on the top of it, to which he replied 
it was impossible ; and I could hardly persuade him 
I had myself accomplished that feat. 

"I thence directed my route in pursuit of the 
remaining barrows towards Mis Tor, and leaving my 
horse near the stream-work mentioned in one of my 
former rambles, entered the enclosure, which reaches 
from the river Walkham half way up the rocky side 
of Mis Tor. The first barrow I arrived at was twenty- 
seven paces round, the next twenty-seven, another 

23a MIS TOR. [let. 

thirty-four. Near this was one thirty-eight, and 
another twenty-five. They were in general about 
four and a half feet high. Not far distant was the 
largest I had yet seen ; the circumference of which 
was forty-eight paces, and its height six feet Near 
this were two more, one twenty-eight paces, the other 
thirty-two in circumference. It may possibly be said 
that they are nothing more than old peat stacks, as 
where the turf has been removed the earth is very 
black, but this is the natural colour of the soil on the 
Moor. It would be absurd to imagine such pains 
would be taken to place them all in the same direc- 
tion, or to make them all of nearly the same size. 
But the strongest proof till one of them be opened, 
(which at some future time I hope to do) is that the 
next I came to evidently had its sides faced with 
stone. This was twenty-four paces round. At the 
east end of it is a circle ten paces in diameter ; it was 
different from any other I had before seen. Stones 
were piled upon each other to the height of two feet, 
which was about the width of the wall. The entrance 
was to the south, whence you have a fine view of the 
sea, Maker Heights, and Vixen Tor. 

"Near this was another barrow, thirty-two paces 
round, more distinctly faced with stone. Thus in all 
there are thirteen tumuli within the space of less 
than half a mile-; and since they are surrounded on 
all sides by such -evident Druidical remains as basins 
and circles, we may surely attribute them to the 
same origin. Indeed, this spot seems to have been 
the sacred cemetery of the Druids. 

"I forgot to mention above that an idea may be 
started, from their proximity to a stream -work, that 
these mounds were formed of the rubbish arising 

Xiv.] BRENT TOR. 233 

from them. This, however, could by no means be 
the case, as they surely would not have carried it to 
such a distance from the work, nor was there any 
reason to form a trench around, or to make them in 
so artificial a shape. Near these tumuli are several 
lines of stones stretching in various directions, some 
straight, and others in a circular direction. To the 
north-east of them I found very unexpectedly a great 
number of circles, of all sizes from three or four paces 
to sixty or seventy in diameter. The largest united 
three or four small ones, and had lines of connexion 
with some at a distance. On the range of its circum- 
ferential line, a square is formed on the inside by 
three or four stones, which has an entrance from 
without. This I conjecture to have been the sacred 
hearth or altar for burnt sacrifice. And near one of 
the circles is a pit or cavity, which possibly might 
have been applied to the same purpose." 

The next extract which I here send you from Mr. 
Bray's papers is an account of his excursion to 


"On my road I passed Hurdwick, about a mile 
from the town. It was formerly the property of the 
Abbot of Tavistock ; and the remains of a barn of 
considerable extent, with bold projecting buttresses, 
built probably about the same period with the abbey, 
prove it to have been a place of no mean consequence. 
Indeed, the Abbot was called to the house of peers \ 
in the time of Henry VIIL, by the title of Baron 

"At the northern extremity of Heathfield, Brent 
Tor is a conspicuous object. In Gibson's edition of 
Camden's Britannia, we are informed that Brent Tor 

234 BRENT TOR. [let. 

is a name signifying 'a high rocky place/ As Tor 
alone can lay claim to the greater part, if not the 
whole of this definition, (for tor, tower, turns, are all 
of the same import, meaning something elevated ; 
and tor moreover is generally, at least in Devon- 
shire, confined to a rocky hill) the first syllable, and 
thus the very name of the place itself, is totally 

" Brent is the participle of brennen, to burn. And 
little doubt can be entertained that Brent Tor was an 
ancient beacon, upon which wood, turf, or other rude 
articles of fuel, were burnt by way of signal ; and we 
know that the church upon its summit is even at 
present ' a famous sea mark/ Four or five tumuli 
about a mile distant, on Heathfield, are still called 
the Beacons. It was probably in the time of the 
early Britons a stronghold, or hill fort; as on the 
northern side may be traced two or three mounds, 
that seem to have been raised for the purpose of 

" The summit of this lofty eminence is generally so 
damp and wet, that the very coffins are said to float 
in the vaults. This no doubt is greatly exaggerated : 
but most of the hills on Dartmoor are so wet and 
boggy, from being frequently covered with mist, that 
they justly might be designated as 'cloudcapt tors.' 
In addition to this the western winds, being here 
the most prevalent, bring the clouds from the Atlantic 
ocean ; and these, surcharged with vapour from 
crossing such an immense expanse of water, are 
attracted and broken by the hills of Devonshire. 
This in fact is the principal cause of the humidity, 
but at the same time the perpetual verdure, for which 
this country is so remarkable. 

xiv.] BRENT TOR. 235 

"The church on Brent Tor is dedicated to St. 
Michael. There is a tradition among the vulgar that 
its foundation was originally laid at the foot of the 
hill ; and that the enemy of all angels, the prince of 
darkness, removed the stones by night from the 
base to the summit, probably to be nearer his own 
dominion, the air: but that, ' immediately on the 
church being dedicated to St. Michael, the patron of 
the edifice hurled upon the devil such an enormous 
mass of rock, that he never afterwards ventured to 
approach it. Others tell us that it was erected by a 
wealthy merchant, who vowed in the midst of a 
tremendous storm at sea, (possibly addressing him- 
self to his patron, St. Michael) that if he escaped in 
safety, he would build a church on the first land he 
descried. If this was the case, he seems to have per- 
formed his vow with more worldly prudence than 
gratitude ; as it is one of the smallest churches any- 
where to be met with. Indeed, it frequently, and not 
inappropriately, has been compared to a cradle. The 
tower has but three small bells. It is a daughter 
church to Tavistock ; and the Michaelmas fair, now 
held at the latter place, used formerly to be celebrated 
at Brent Tor, doubtless in honour of its tutelar 
saint. The stone still lies by the road side on which 
the pole with a glove, the usual concomitant of a fair, 
was erected. Probably, however, it was originally the 
base of a cross. 

"The church stands on the very summit of the 
rock, within a few feet of the declivity, on its most 
precipitous side. These words, inscribed on a tablet, 
are seen on the south wall — 'Upon this rock will I 
build my church/ There are no monuments ; but 
the following rude inscription is worthy notice : — 


u 1 

Heare under this stone lyeth the bodie of John Cole, Jim. of 
Litton, who departed this life the 23d. of November, 1694, aeta : 
22. Also, Johan, his sister, who was buried the 1st of February, 
1694, aeta : n.' 

" ' If thou be serious (Friend) peruse this stone ; 
If thou be not soe : pray : let it alone. 
Against death's poison, vertue 's the best art ; 
When good men seem to die, they but depart. 
Live well : then at the last with us thou'lt feele 
Bare dying makes not death, but dying ill/ 

" Brent Tor is a pleasing object at a distance ; here 
towering abruptly, there gently rising from the ex- 
tensive plain of Heathfield ; but when viewed near 
it is too void of foreground ; though a projecting 
rock at the north-west end, under which is a little 
shed or stable, gives it a prominent feature, and in 
some degree supplies the deficiency: for as one 
passes along the road beneath, the form of the hill 
is perpetually varying ; and the effect is totally 
changed, as the tower is seen on the one side or 
on the other of this impending cliff. 

"In Camden the inhabitants of a neighbouring 
village, called the Gubbins, are stated to be 'by 
mistake represented by Fuller (in his English Wor- 
thies) as a lawless Scythian sort of people.' The 
writer contents himself with asserting that it is a 
mistake, though upon what authority does not ap- 
pear ; as even at the present day the term Gubbins 
is well known in the vicinity, though it is applied to 
the people and not the place. They still have the 
reputation of having been a wild and almost savage 
race ; and not only this, but another name, that of 
cramp-eaters, is still applied to them by way of re- 

"Instead of buns, which are usually eaten at 

Xiv.]. CRAMP EATERS. 237 

country revels in the West of England, the inhabi- 
tants of Brent Tor could produce nothing but cramps, 
an inferior species of cake; probably owing to the 
badness of their corn, from the poverty of the soil. 
Thus they were called 'cramp eaters/ as the whiskered 
warrior in the Batrachomyomachia, or battle of the 
frogs and mice, of Homer, was denominated Sito- 
phagus, or 'cake-eater.' And if a bad pun may be 
allowed, they might be learnedly called cacophagi. 
We know that the gipsies are descended from the 
Egyptians; but notwithstanding Fuller's credit is 
thus fully re-established, we must not venture to 
suppose that the modern inhabitants of Brent Tor 
aspire to carry back their genealogy to the ancient 
Scythians; particularly as history informs us that 
their country was not held in high esteem, even by 
its natives. For a certain petulant Greek objecting 
to the celebrated Anacharsis that he was a Scythian, 
'True/ says Anacharsis, 'my country disgraces me, 
but you disgrace your country/ 

" If however longevity be a characteristic of savage 
nations, the inhabitants of Brent Tor will not, perhaps, 
be displeased at being compared to them in this par- 
ticular. There is now living among them a woman 
called Elizabeth Williams, of the age of one hundred 
and six, who still retains the full possession of her 
faculties. She says she was married at the age of 
twenty-four, at Lamerton, and by the parish register 
of that place it appears that this occurred in April, 
1736; so that, if this account be correct, she can be 
no more than ninety-eight years old. Her maiden 
name was Blatchford. 

" It may not be uninteresting here to subjoin Mr. 
Polwhele's notice of Brent Tor rock, extracted from 

238 MR. POLWHELE ON BRENT TOR. [let. xiv. 

his Devon. 'The summits of these (the Dartmoor) 
Tors are found to be composed, in general, partly of 
granite and partly of dark brown iron-stone, which in 
some places appears to have been in a state of fusion. 
Brent Tor, and several other tors on the west side of 
the river, are undoubtedly volcanic. Brent Tor is 
very curious ; it being one mass of hill, rising to a 
great height from a perfect plane, and entirely di- 
vested of everything of the kind besides itself, and 
differing from all other tors which we visited. We 
found it covered, between the rocks, with a fine 
verdure, and every indication of a very rich soil, far 
different from the heath which surrounds it. We 
brought away some bits of the rock, which in 
general is a deep rusty blue, inclining to black, 
hard and heavy, with pores here and there as if 
worm-eaten ; some of the pores contain a little of a 
brownish red earth, but whether of the ochre kind 
we could not determine. Near the top of the Tor 
some pieces were found more porous, even re- 
sembling a cinder, or piece of burnt bread, and very 
light ; we supposed it to be a variety of tophus. 
Another observation was very striking, that this Tor 
does not contain a single particle of granite, that we 
could discover. In this it differs from most of the 
other tors we visited, though we found some on the 
west side of the river Lid, which contained stones of 
a similar porosity. From the above observations, we 
were led to believe that this remarkable 'for was the 
effect or remains of some long-ago extinguished vol- 
cano; as, in its appearance, situation, soil, strata, &c, it 
argues strongly for it. It bears, also, a great similarity 
to the description in Brydone's Tour through Sicily \ 
of the hills which he calls the offspring of Etna.* " 



Source of the Tavy on Dartmoor — North of Crockern Tor — Account of 
some very curious Circles found in this Excursion — Long Be Tor — 
South Be Tor — Bel Tor, or Belle Tor— Excursion to Tavy Head — 
Cranmere Pool — Source of the River Tavy — The tracks of Foxes 
seen — A Hare chased by a Fox — Superstition respecting the Spirits 
condemned to the Pool — The Guide's credulity — His account of 
having been himself Bewitched by an old Woman — Extraordinary 
Walking Race — Head of the river Walkham — Crossing the Fen — 
Peter Tor, a fortified Stronghold. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, May 13/^, 1832. 

I PURPOSE sending you in this letter an account of 
the source of the river Tavy, which rises on Dartmoor, 
and flowing through the adjacent country gives name 
to Tavistock, which is situated on its banks. But 
wishing to be as regular as I can, I shall continue 
my extracts from Mr. Bray's Journal in the order in 
which I find it written. The following brief notice 
of some ancient vestiges comes before his account of 
the source of the Tavy. It is dated — 

"Sept 20th, 1802. As the family had determined 
on going to Bair-down this day, I was glad to be 
of the party, to continue my observations towards 
the north of Crockern Tor, which I had lately visited. 
After passing Merrivale Bridge, we thought we saw 
a circle or two on the right of the road, in a valley 
where there are directing-posts from Tavistock to 

240 STONE CIRCLES. [let. 

Ashburton. As I had not been exactly on that spot 
before, we proceeded to it ; and the first circle we 
found was fifty-six paces in diameter; including a 
smaller one to the westward, another to the south- 
east, and a third to the north-east. That to the west- 
ward had a diametrical line intersecting it. To the 
north and south were two or three large flat stones 
set on end ; and in the circle were some rocks, 
which possibly might have served the purpose of 

"At a little distance from this is another circle, 
or rather three parts of one; for a portion is very 
rudely traced : it is one hundred and sixteen paces 
in circumference. Adjoining, but on the outside, is a 
smaller circle, with a diametrical line, and within it 
are two others, somewhat large, connected with the 
circumferential line. On the outside of this is a large 
flat rock, which serves as a back to what was once, 
I conjecture, an altar-hearth, as there are some stones, 
now partly thrown down, that form a square before 
it. Near this spot were three or four smaller ones, 
not deserving any particular notice. 

" Continuing our route to the left, on the east we 
arrived at a small tor on the acclivity ascending to 
Hessory Tor, on which is a basin two feet and a half 
long and six inches deep. My father, who had never 
before seen a rock basin, was convinced, though this 
was by no means a regular one, that it must have 
been a work of art. We fell into the road again at 
Rundle Stone, on which, on the south side, is the 
letter R, in alto relievo. Hence I had often thought 
I perceived to the east-south-east a tower ; and 
though every person who had heard me mention it 
considered it as suppositious, I by means of a glass 

xv.] BELLE TOR. 24I 

now saw it very distinctly : from its direction as well 
as appearance, I think it must be Lord Courtenay's 

" My father left me at Bair-down ; and I resolved 
to visit by myself the tors, four in number, to the east 
of the Dart. The first tor is just above Wistman's 
Wood : it is called Long Betor. On one stone I 
found three imperfect basins ; on another a shallow 
one ; and on a third three more, also imperfect. This 
Tor bears evident marks of having suffered from 
some concussion of the earth ; for the strata lie in all 
directions, and some piles of rocks have fallen from 
their perpendicular, and, though falling against others, 
have not separated. At South Betor, on the same 
ridge, there is a basin two feet and a half in diameter : 
it is shallow. Waydown Tor, though much the 
highest of the four, has nothing remarkable, ex- 
cepting the view, which is very extensive. It is 
almost the only tor of such a height that is covered 
with grassy turf. 

"Belle Tor (or Bel Tor) 1 has on its summit a 
circular mound of stones, hollow in the middle, with 
two little piles at the east and west. This is evi- 
dently artificial ; as there are no loose stones near 
excepting those fallen from the top. A rock or two 
to the north had nothing worthy notice. In many 
places the ground was boggy; I was obliged when 
this was the case to tie my horse to some rushes, 
not without some degree of fear that he would eat 
himself loose." 

1 Supposed, as stated in a former letter, to derive its name from Bel, 
or Belus, the sun, worshipped by the Britons. 

YOU h R 



"Sept 22. — Accompanied by my friend I set out 
to visit Tavy Head. We went first to the village of 
Peter Tavy, where my father had recommended me 
to make inquiry of a farmer of the name of Mudge. 
We met two men driving sheep to Tavistock market, 
and, on applying to them for information, found it 
was the farmer and his son. On learning who we 
were he insisted on accompanying us himself, and 
accordingly returned for a horse ; and to be more 
expeditious mounted him without any saddle. 

"We soon found he was well acquainted with all 
the western parts of the Moor. Indeed he was 
communicative in every respect ; and informed us 
that he had a large family, which at times from mis- 
fortunes and losses he should not have been able to 
have brought up, had it not been for the many 
kindnesses of his landlord, who amongst others 
permitted him to pay his rent only just when it was 
convenient to himself. My companion asked him 
who his landlord was, and he replied that he was my 
father. I was greatly affected at the good farmer's 
expressions of affectionate gratitude to his benefactor. 

" Near Peter Tavy is an upright stone, where was 
buried a man who some years ago poisoned himself 
in consequence of the infidelity of his mistress. We 
first rode to Limebarrow, which is an immense heap 
of stones with a little cavity on the top : in the centre 
is a large stone. It is eighty-five paces in circum- 
ference. The tor near it, a very low one, has nothing 
worth notice. 



"About half a mile farther, we left our horses to 
the care of some persons who were employed in 
carrying away 'turves' (peat) and proceeded on foot 
towards Cranmere Pool, the source of the river Tavy. 
If we had not taken a guide it would have been 
impossible to have attempted it ; for even as it was 
we were half way up the leg every instant in crossing 
a bog, or morass, of two miles in extent, and another 
soon after of the same dimensions. At a spot where 
the verdure was entirely carried away by water, and 
where there was nothing but soft black peat, we 
ascended a circular mound, seemingly artificial, 
whence we had an extensive view : to the south Bel 
Tor, and Waydown Tor, with the tors on Bair-down, 
and Hessory Tor ; to the west Ger Tor, Fur Tor, 
West Han Tor, Sharpy Tor, and Sourton Tor; to the 
north Amarcombe, West Mil Tor and East Mil Tor, 
Row Tor, and others, with I believe Sheperton, Wild, 
and Watern Tors. 

"To the north-east we perceived a flag on a hill 
about a mile distant, to which we went, and conjec- 
tured it was affixed there by those employed in the 
trigonometrical survey of the county; though one 
would think, from its not being worn; that it had been 
but lately erected. The Dart rises at a little distance 
from it. 

" We saw frequently the track of foxes ; and our 
guide informed us that once he had seen a fox in 
chase of a hare. This is a fact rather new, I believe, 
in natural history. About a mile farther, in the 
midst of a bog of a considerable extent, we found 
Cranmere Pool. It is not as represented in the map 
on the top of a hill, but in a low part of the bog ; 
however the bog itself is on high ground. The 

244 CRANMERE POOL. [let. 

pool was dry, and through it we observed the foot- 
marks of a fox. I walked into it some little distance 
without sinking higher than my ankle. It does not 
appear to be more than a hundred feet in diameter ; 
nor can the water itself be more than six or eight 
feet deep when it is full. I am inclined to think that 
its size must have been exaggerated by the fears of 
those who viewed it only at a distance ; for in wet 
weather it cannot well be approached. Indeed at 
present we found many deep holes around it full of 
water, and partly covered with long grass, so thick 
that it required the utmost circumspection to wade 
along in safety. 

" Our guide informed us that it is believed spirits 
are here condemned to suffer. Indeed, he was not 
very sceptical ; for he said that an ill-minded old 
woman, who is still alive and lives near him, had 
bewitdted himself y so that for seventeen weeks he never 
slept an hour, nor ate more than a biscuit or two ; 
that he never felt hungry nor sleepy ; that always at 
twelve o'clock at night, precisely, such pains as of 
pricking of pins would so torment him in his side, 
that he was obliged to be taken out of bed, and 
that then he would sit up till six o'clock in the morn- 
ing, when these tortures regularly left him ! 

"The Pool is about eight miles from Peter Tavy, 
and within three of Zeal, near Okehampton. On 
our remarking to our guide how lustily he walked, 
he informed us his age was sixty-five, but that he 
could never walk so well as his son, who, for the 
wager of a guinea, had run eleven miles in forty-five 
minutes, from Tavistock Bridge to Knackersknowle. 

" Returning from Cranmere Pool, we again crossed 
the Tavy, which is here a little rivulet. We also saw 

xv.] . PETER TOR. 245 

the head of the river Walkham. We mounted Fur 
Tor, oil which is a basin two feet and a half in 
diameter, and eight inches deep. There are also two 
small contiguous basins, one of which has a perforation 
communicating with the side of the rock. 

" Hence we again waded to our horses, after walk- 
ing about ten miles across the fen. We were not a 
little heated and fatigued ; but had it not been for a 
pretty brisk wind we should have been much more 
so. We rode about half a mile, and, coming to a clear 
stream, went to dinner on a venison pasty, which I 
had carried in my valise. Soon after we took leave 
of our good old guide, and went to Peterstone Rock, 
the highest stone of which, he said, had been split in 
pieces by lightning about forty years ago, 

" Peter Tor was evidently a fortified stronghold, as 
it is surrounded by a mound of stones, and in the 
midst three or four rocks are encompassed with the 
same. Hence is a distant view of the Sound, &c. 
The Tor is composed of black granite, covered with 
moss. The layers are not, as usual, horizontal, but 
jagged, and generally perpendicular. Below it is a 
large oval ridge of stones, one hundred and thirty- 
three paces long, with seven small internal circles. 
From a tor near Peter Tavy is a very fine and ex- 
tensive view — the winding river, Tavistock, Mount 
Edgcumbe, Kit Hill, Brent Tor, &c." 

In the first part of the above account, which I have 
extracted from his old Journal, Mr. Bray mentions 
the upright stone that marks the spot where a young 
man was buried who had poisoned himself, in con- 
sequence of the infidelity of his mistress. That spot 
is at the meeting of four cross-roads, now grass-grown; 
it is known by the name of Stevens's grave. 

246 TAW CLEAVE. [let. 

I send you also some account, written by Mr. Bray, 

of our excursion to 

"Sept. 8th, 1830. — In our progress towards Tavy 
Cleave, whilst stood before us two of the summits of 
those lofty tors that surround it, we saw between 
them, stretching to the remotest horizon, a number 
of intersecting hills, on which the light from the dif- 
ferent distances was continually shifting, the tors 

Ir^T-^fcg^S&jS jfeg^fe a 

themselves being in the deepest shadow. It instantly 
reminded me of the effects produced by the gently 
alternating light and shadow of the diorama. It is 
seldom that such a scene is found in Nature, where the 
foreground remains fixed in gloom, and light and 
shade seem to chase each other over the varied 
landscape ; because in general we see a continuation 
of extent, and the gradual and therefore almost 
imperceptible changes that take place ; whilst here 

xv.] TAVY CLEAVE. 247 

the different points of distance were so happily 
combined, that the eye, as it glanced from one to the 
other, beheld one illuminated and the other obscured, 
now in succession and now in opposition, as the 
flitting clouds passed over them. 

"The rocks above Tavy Cleave are not so much 
composed of the usual layers of granite as they are 
a conglomeration of small disjointed parts. Imme- 
diately below one of the walls (for such therefore we 
may call them) of the summit, the stones appear to- 
have been thrown by the hand of Nature into a cir- 
cular direction. Indeed, one might almost fancy them 
to have been ejected from the crater of a volcano as 
in a whirlwind, and not to have lost their rotary 
motion on their descent. Most of them being on 
their edge, they look like petrified waves, and may be 
compared, perhaps, to the Mer de Glace, not however 
in ice, but granite. 

" Two of these broad masses of rocks are divided 
by an aperture, through which with most advantage 
may be viewed the scene below. Between a bold de- 
clivity on the left, divided into two or three pointed 
eminences, and another less precipitous on the right, 
the Tavy winds in a deep ravine or cleft (which prob- 
ably gives name to the spot) at first over some shelving 
rocks, that give rise to long filaments of foam, and 
then to a broad white belt in a transverse direction ; 
till meeting with a ridge, or perhaps a fissure (for the 
Cause is invisible) it assumes even amid its own dark 
waters the appearance of a cascade, equally white 
with foam ; and at last transforms itself as it were, 
into a deep black pool. 

" When we approached the river, we were almost 
covered with what seemed showers of thistle-down ; 

248 SHARPY TOR. [let. 

but on coming closer we saw no spot on which 
thistles by any possibility could grow. We soon dis- 
covered, however, that it was the efflorescence or dry 
incrustation of foam, which had collected between 
and upon the rocks beneath what I have described as 
the cascade. 

"The bed of the river here, being principally a 
horizontal stratum, seems part of the floor or original 
crust of the earth : and if it have undergone any 
alteration it is probably by a partial subsidence; 
whilst the tors around appear to have been elevated 
by a projectile force, and down their sides may still 
be seen what may be called, perhaps, cataracts of 

The next extract I shall here send will be an 
omitted passage from Mr. Bray's former Journal, with 
a notice of 


" It well deserves the name, for some of the points, 
almost in a perpendicular direction, appear as sharp 
as the head of a spear. There are four eminences at 
a short distance from one another overhanging the 
Tavy. Air Tor, or Hare Tor, to the north of the 
former, commands a very extensive view, looking 
down upon Lydford Castle. On the very summit is 
seen a kind of natural mound of earth, where appears 
also something like a circle. It is however hollow in 
the centre, and there was in it the burrow of a rabbit 
or other small animal. On the south-west side the 
granite is coarse, mingled with a square-shaped white 
spar. Here is a small oval basin. In going to this 
Tor, I was obliged to leave my horse at a distance, 
owing to the boggy nature of the soil. On returning 


I heard the bleating of a sheep very near, but looking 
around discovered no signs of one. I found, however, 
that it proceeded from nearly beneath me, and at 
length ascertained that it was a lamb which had got 
under the rocks. I at first, through the interstices of 
the rocks, saw its nose only ; but at last succeeded in 
dragging it out by its legs. Thus, my journey, long 
and fatiguing as it was, would have been amply 
recompensed had it only afforded me the opportunity 
of saving the life of this harmless animal. I next 
visited the lower part of Air Tor to the north ; and 
observed some few projecting nodules of shining 
mundic in the granite. Between this and the next 
tor there is a small artificial cairn with a concavity, 
and two sharp-pointed heaps on its edge. On riding 
down the hill my horse entangled his foot between 
the rocks, and by the violent effort he made in extri- 
cating himself, which was so great as to tear off his 
shoe, I was thrown over his head ; but most provi- 
dentially with no other hurt than slightly bruising 
my leg, and spraining my hand. This, of course, put 
an end to any further progress that day." 



Excursion to the Warren in search of the King's Oven — Arrival at an 
old House called an Inn — Invitation to the Traveller held out in 
Verse — Romantic Story — Derivation of the word Merrivale — 
A search after Antiquities under a broiling Sun — Ridges of Stones 
— Circular Barrow seventy-six Paces in Circumference — The King's 
Oven found — Probably a place used by the Aboriginal Inhabitants of 
the Moor for their cookery — A Circle — A Stone Cross — Curious 
Remains of a British Bridge examined and described, near a 
Circular Enclosure like Dennabridge Pound — Visit to Fitz's Well 
on the Moor — Account of the Well, with the tradition respect- 
ing its History as connected with the Pixies and Sir John and 
Lady Fitz. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, May 26th, 1832. 

My next extract from Mr. Bray's Journal will yet 
detain you on Dartmoor : it gives an account of our 
excursion to the 


"27th July, 1831. — Accompanied by my wife, I set 
out in search of the King's Oven, the name of which 
certainly excited more than ordinary expectations. 
On reaching New House, formerly an inn, I inquired 
of a female who was standing at the door if there 
were any room in the stable for my horses. Her 
reply was that the stable was full of turf, by which 
she meant peat. We had come fourteen miles, in 

let. xvi.] . NEW HOUSE. 251 

an extremely hot day ; but, anticipating no great 
accommodation for them, I had brought corn, and 
therefore directed my servant to lead them about, 
and to feed them in the best manner he could. 

" Had the stable been empty it could afford, I 
believe, but little accommodation at the best, and the 
house itself, even in its better days, though it held 
out an invitation far more magnificent than the usual 
one, ' Entertainment for man and horse,' would per- 
haps have little exceeded that which is celebrated in 
poetry as the death-scene of the profligate Villiers, 
who is described as having died ' In the worst inn's 
worst room.' The inscription on the sign, which I 
think I must have seen myself when a boy, was as 
well as I recollect, — though, as I doubt not it was 
1 spelt by the unlettered muse,' I wish I could givQ 
it verbatim et literatim — 

" Here is cider and beer, 
Your hearts for to cheer. 
And if you want meat 
To make up a treat, 
There are rabbits to eat." 

"New House (which Hannaford, when he men- 
tioned to me that the King's Oven was at no great 
distance from it, seemed to consider a misnomer, for 
he said he believed it was one of the oldest houses 
on the Moor) is surrounded by a warren, which thus 
afforded an easy opportunity of fulfilling at least the 
latter part of the above promise, and they probably 
were able to give a Welsh -rabbit into the bargain. 
Having provided ourselves with sandwiches, in a 
kind of cartouch box, which originally however was 
made for botanizing, and a pocket pistol, vulgo a 
small bottle of brandy, (for I would not have my 

*52 ROMANTIC STORY. [let. 

readers expect any perilous adventures with banditti) 
I made no lamentations on the absence or entire 
annihilation of most of these eatables and drinkables, 
but contented myself with inquiring of the repre- 
sentative of the ci-devant landlady, which was the 
way to the King's Oven. She hardly seemed at first 
to understand the question, and indeed was evidently 
altogether so uninformed, that I was satisfied she 
was not the person whom I thought I possibly might 
find there, and of whom I had heard the following 

"A common pack-horse driver, or carrier, was in 
the habit of putting up at a public -house on St. 
David's Hill at Exeter, which, indeed, was a pretty 
general rendezvous for persons of this description. 
They there, over their beer, amused themselves with 
singing. Whether the person above alluded to sang 
the loudest or the sweetest I know not, but his voice 
was so pre-eminently distinguishable from that of his 
companions, as to attract the attention of the daugh- 
ter of a clergyman who resided near. I presume not 
to say who made the first advances : it is clear who 
made the first impressions. The result, however, was 
that she married him, and he took her as his bride to 
this same house in the very heart of the Moor. I 
made no inquiry about her of its present inhabitant, 
as I thought she was as little likely to give any 
information on matters connected with romance as 
on those of antiquity. 

, "On asking, however, if she had never heard that 
there was anything curious to be seen in the neigh- 
bourhood, she said that she had lived there no more 
than two years, but that once a pedlar entered the 
house, and remarking how much it was out of repair, 

xvi.] THE WARREN. 253 

and that perhaps the wisest plan would be to pull it 
down, advised her if such should be her resolution 
to build it on a spot the other side of the road, where 
a foundation for a similar purpose had been already 
laid, or at least the ground dug out for it. He said 
it was in a line with the corner of their field near 
the mire, by which I afterwards found she meant 
the bog. 

"And here, at the risk of being charged perhaps 
with digression, I must mention that on previously 
passing Merrivale Bridge, and, farther on, Higher 
Merripit and Lower Merripit, I had ventured to 
account for the name of these places, by supposing 
it derived from miry, corrupted into merry. They 
all, especially the two latter, are near a bog. And 
thus, if she were not the means of giving me informa- 
tion, she was, as not unfrequently happens, the means 
of my gaining it, or at least of confirming my own 
opinion, which I believe with most is considered 
equivalent to information. Though her curiosity had 
never led her there, she was good-natured enough, 
however, to assist in gratifying mine, and offered to 
accompany us to the spot which she thought was 
meant by the pedlar. When I arrived there, however, 
I was as wise as before, for I knew not whether I was 
to see a mound or a cavity, and of each of these 
there were many, as we were evidently surrounded 
by the ' old workings ' (as they are called in Devon- 
shire) of a tin mine, which had subsequently been 
converted into a warren. The day was extremely 
hot, and as my companion was tired and almost faint- 
ing with the heat, I resolved (though to think then of 
looking for an oven seemed somewhat a work of 
supererogation) to go in search of it alone. 

254 KING'S OVEN. [let. 

" Sometimes thinking of the burning fiery furnace 
of Nebuchadnezzar, and sometimes of King Arthur's 
Oven, which I believe is a kind of cromlech in Scot- 
land, I rambled about with an umbrella over my head 
in search of I knew not what. I thought also more 
than once of a wildgoose-chase, and was almost in- 
duced again and again to give it up ; but tempted 
by the pleasure of exploring unknown regions I 

"As I ascended the hill I perceived some ridges 
of stone, which whether they were the remains of 
inclosures or tracklines I could not tell. I found on • 
an elevated point of view what seemed like the King's 
broad-arrow, which appeared to have been but recently 
made in the turf. And had it not been so long ago, 
I could have fancied it one of those marks made 
during the trigonometrical survey by direction of the 
Ordnance under Colonel Mudge. Soon after I came 
to something like a small rude circle, with what might 
have been an erect stone or pillar, but now fallen, and, 
whether by lightning or otherwise, split longitudinally 
and laterally into four parts, in nearly equal propor- 
tions. Advancing farther, I observed the outline of 
the summit of the hill somewhat rough with stones 
and rushes, and hastening towards it found as I con- 
clude the object of my search. 

u It is a circular barrow composed of small stones, 
seventy-six paces in circumference. Its form ap- 
proaches but little to conical, being I should think 
but three feet high. I saw on it no lichen or moss, 
which is generally found on structures of this descrip- 
tion that have remained in their original form, and I 
therefore should conclude that many of the stones 
have at a comparatively late date, been carried away. 

xvi.] KING'S OVEN. 255 

It can boast of almost a panoramic view of consider- 
able extent, particularly towards the north-east and 
south. Near it is a kind of trench, about six feet 
long, with a shorter meeting it at right angles in the 
centre, the sides of which are lined with stone. And 
in the same direction are several pits, and one in 
particular of some extent in the shape of an inverted 
cone. 1 

"On our way homeward, a little before we came to 
Merripit, I observed a circle on my right hand inter- 
sected by the road ; and a little farther on to the left, 
on the other side of the road, a stone cross, nine feet 
and three quarters long, now fallen, and lying near a 
circular pit. Its arms are very short, but the whole 
is of a more regular shape and better wrought than 
such crosses as are generally found on the Moor. 

"At Post Bridge I got out of the carriage to 
measure one of the flat stones of that structure, which 
I found to be fifteen feet by five and a half. These 
immense slabs are supported on four piers, at either 
extremity one, two having originally been in the 
centre, of which one is fallen and now lies in the bed 
of the river. It was probably erected by the aboriginal 
Britons, and might almost be taken for the work of 
the Cyclops themselves. On passing over the new 

1 It is not improbable this was really the King's Oven, or used for 
the purpose of baking by some British chief — since it was a custom 
with the people of Britain as well as of Gaul to dig a deep pit, line it 
with stones, and make the stones hot by burning heath or wood upon 
them. In similar pits, says the editor of Ossian, " they laid venison at 
the bottom, with a stratum of stones above it, and thus did they alter : 
nately till the pit was full : the whole was covered with heath to confine 
the steam." Near these holes or pits there was generally also found a 
"heap of smooth flat stones of the flint kind," used perhaps for baking 

256 FITZ'S WELL. [ltlT. 

bridge, near which is another cross close to the road, 
I observed at some distance to the right a circular 
enclosure, somewhat similar to what I suppose was 
the foundation of Dennabridge Pound." 

The next extract from Mr. Bray's Journal is an 
account of a visit to 


"August ioth, 183 1. — Having many years since 
attempted to find Fitz's, or, as it is generally called, 
Fice's well, by crossing the Moor from Bair-down, 
when my horse, on getting into a bog, so trembled in 
every limb that I gave up the search, and from some 
circumstance or another never resumed it ; I deter- 
mined, this day, to renew my investigations. 

" I directed my course to the house on the Moor 
near Rundle Stone, where a female offered to guide 
us to the well. We proceeded in a northerly direc- 
tion, along the eastern bank of the leat that conveys 
the water to the prison. After we had gone about 
half a mile, we turned off at a right angle, following 
the direction of what appeared to be an old hedge or 
part of an enclosure, at no great distance to the left 
of which we reached the well, not, however, without 
some of the party getting wet in the feet, as it is 
nearly in the midst of a bog. It is situated on a 
gentle declivity, near Blackabrook, (over which, a little 
lower down, is an ancient foot bridge) the edifice 
about the well consisting of flat slabs of granite ; the 
cover being three feet ten inches by three feet three 
inches. The height of this rude structure is about 
three feet. The well, according to Carrington's work, 
' measures three feet square by two feet and a half 
deep.' On the front edge of the cover is the inscrip- 

xvi.] FITZ'S WELL. 257 

tion, which I hesitate not to say is given very incor- 
rectly in the vignette of his book. 

"I am willing, however, to make every allowance 
for the artist, as , he possibly might labour under 
similar disadvantages to myself, if not even greater ; 
for the whole was in shadow, whilst the sun shone 
bright behind it. Had it been at noon, or an hour or 
two previous, for it faces nearly east, it would have 
been partially illumined, and the shadow of the 
letters, which are in relief, would have assisted in 
deciphering them. But I am sufficiently convinced 
that the letters 'IF' are not reversed, but in their 
natural order; and that instead of being 1168, it is 

"I think it most likely that Fitz's Well was con- 
structed by John Fitz, the old lawyer and astrologer 
of Fitzford ; whose traffic with the stars in foretelling 
the fate of his only son is still the theme of tradition. 

"John Fitz, the elder, was, if I may so express 
myself, a water- fancier as well as an astrologer; for 
he built the conduit-house at Fitzford; and I have 
in my possession his autograph. It is thus written : 
* John Fytz;' and appears on the counterpart lease of 
a field, giving him liberty to convey water ' in pipes of 
timber, lead, or otherwise/ to his mansion-house at 
Fitzford. It is dated the 10th of Elizabeth. Now 
Elizabeth began to reign 1558, and the structure 
called Fitz's Well on Dartmoor was, as we have seen, 
erected in 1568." 

Since Mr. Bray wrote the above notes in his Jour- 
nal, I have learnt from Mary Colling, who is well 
acquainted with all the traditions of her native town, 
that the following is still told by the elders of Tavi- 
stock, respecting Fice's Well. 
vol. l S 

258 FITZ'S WFXL. [let. xvi. 

John Fitz the astrologer, and his lady, were once 
pixy -led whilst riding on Dartmoor. After long 
wandering in the vain effort to find the right path, 
they felt so fatigued and thirsty, that it was with 
extreme delight they discovered a spring of water, 
whose powers seemed to be miraculous ; for no sooner 
had they satisfied their thirst than they were enabled 
to find their way through the Moor towards home 
without the least difficulty. In gratitude for this 
deliverance, and the benefit they had received from 
the water, old John Fitz caused the stone memorial 
in question, bearing the date of the year, to be placed 
over the spring for the advantage of all pixy-led 
travellers. It is still considered to possess many 
healing virtues. 



Height of Southern Hills of Dartmoor — Luminous evaporations there 
seen — Tin Mines — Grey Granite ; of what composed — Manganese 
found near Moreton Hampstead — Devonshire Marbles — Slate re- 
markably beautiful — The various uses to which applied in the 
County — Slaters called Helliers — Crystals, where found — Black 
Garnets — Spar, where found — Loadstone on Dartmoor — Brent 
Tor, its curiosity and Geology — Dartmoor a primeval Mountain 
Tract — Convulsions of Nature have been great on the Moor — 
Shock of an Earthquake felt — Full account of the Storm and 
its awful effects, at Widdecombe, in 1638 — Low Towers of the 
Churches on the Moor — Botany, slightly noticed — Golden blossom 
of the Furze magnificent in Devon; admired by Linnaeus — The 
Digitalis, or Foxglove, grows in the greatest luxuriance — Whortle- 
berries — White Clover — Wild Flowers ; poetical Names given to 
them by the Peasantry — Provincial Names for the Birds, &c. — The 
Finny Tribes — Reptiles — The Long-Cripple Snake and Toad seen 
together — Story of a remarkable Toad — Lizards — Adders common 
on the Moor — The Bat abundant in the Ruins of an old Tower in 
the Vicarage Garden. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, June ist, 1832. 

On looking over the notes I have made for these 
Letters, I find several respecting Dartmoor that are 
of so miscellaneous a nature that I do not know very 
well how to throw them into any connected form ; 
and yet I think they contain information on some 
points that ought not to be passed in silence. Will 
you, therefore, admit a letter which must, I fear, be 
little better than a string of unconnected paragraphs : 
for in what other way can I give you such notes as 
the following ? 

260 GREY GRANITE. [let. 

I find that the southern hills of that immense waste 
called Dartmoor are about eleven hundred feet above 
the level of the sea; 1 and that luminous mineral 
evaporations and ignes fatui are commonly seen in 
the valleys and hollows of the Moor in dark nights : 
" some of these," says Polwhele, " are like balls of light 
rising about five feet from the earth, then falling back 
and rebounding." In former times the mines were 
numerous ; at present very few are worked, though it 
is conjectured that this vast tract is rich in its sub- 
terranean product of metals and ores. Tin mines 
are amongst these, particularly in the parish of 
Sampford-Spiney ; and some years ago the sexton, 
whilst digging a grave in the church of Whitchurch, 
near Tavistock, struck into a lode of tin. I have in 
these Letters repeatedly mentioned the grey granite 
which so much abounds on the Moor. This consists 
of white felspar, black mica, and quartz. It is re- 
markable that no sort of granite is more readily 
rough-hewn, and none with greater difficulty brought 
to receive a polish. Iron is found in it, and a large 
vein of that metal was discovered in the Sampford- 
Spiney mine. In the fissures of the granite there 
are seen also two varieties of tin, Stannum crystallis 
columnaribus nigris, and Stannum amorphum rufori- 
gricans. 2 Manganese is found in abundance near 
Moreton Hampstead. 

Our Devonshire marbles, of which the most beau- 
tiful chimney-pieces are wrought, are too celebrated 
to need much notice in this letter. The Drewsteignton 

1 The highest summit of one, Yes Tor, near Okehampton, is upwards 
of 2000 feet. 

2 Polwhele's Devon, passim. These are both varieties of the oxide, 
and now classed under the common name cassiterite. 

xvii.] SLATE. 261 

marbles are chiefly black, or of the richest dark blues, 
and elegantly veined ; they are capable of receiving 
the highest polish, and are sometimes found spotted 
with shells or other fossil remains, so hardened as to 
form a part of the marble. Our slate too is very 
celebrated : it is often of so deep a grey as almost 
to approach black. Chimney-pieces, highly polished, 
are made of it. The Rev. Mr. Evans, of Park Wood, 
has in his house one of this description, so exceed- 
ingly beautiful, that on first seeing it I took it for 
black marble. Some of the finest quarries are in our 

This slate is very valuable, and with us it is used 
not merely for a general covering against the weather, 
but for various other purposes. We have a hearth in 
our kitchen of one entire slab, that measures eight 
feet in length by four in breadth. In Devon it is 
often used for tombstones. When we visited the 
church of Launceston in Cornwall, about two years 
ago, we saw lying against the wall of the churchyard 
part of a memorial of this description, which ought 
to have been carefully preserved in the church itself, 
as one of the most curious and beautiful specimens 
of carving in slate perhaps in the whole kingdom. 
The arms and supporters of the deceased, the crest 
with many flourishing decorations, and the whole 
style of ornament, declared it to be a work of the 
time of Henry VIII., when simplicity was getting out 
of fashion. This broken slab of monumental slate, 
for the sharpness and perfection of its execution, and 
the delicacy of its finish, was equal to any sculpture 
I have ever seen in marble ; and when we consider 
the brittle nature of the material in which it is 
wrought, there cannot be a doubt that as a work of 

262 RED EARTH. [let. 

art it is one of great value and curiosity. From the 
situation in which it stood when we saw it, I should 
fear that in a few years it will be totally destroyed. 
Slaters with us still retain that antique name by 
which, if I remember correctly, they are distinguished 
by Chaucer ; for here they are called kelliers, and the 
slate roof of a house is termed the helling. 

But our granite, marbles, and slate are not the only 
productions of the earth for which we are famous : 
the earth itself is deserving notice for the vast variety 
of its tints, and the richness they add to the land- 
scape. I need not tell you, who have been at Exeter, 
how brilliant is the red earth of that neighbourhood, 
and that it is always considered the best and most 
productive. 3 Rougemont Castle, in that city, derives 
its name from the colour of the soil on which it 


stands and the stone of which it is built. Mr. Pol- 
whele mentions that crystals are found in it; and 
that the earth in which diamonds are discovered 
at Golconda is of the same nature. 

Crystals also are sometimes seen on Dartmoor 
amongst the granite. In Sampford-Spiney above 
one thousand were discovered, "being all of a short 
thick column, with tapering pyramidal ends." These 
are very rare in England. "They are always met 
with in parcels in the same place, generally detached 
and single, though sometimes a few of them cohere 
together ; they are beautifully transparent, and of 

8 Even in Otaheite it is so ; for there we learn, by the accounts of 
recent travellers, that the poor savages have a tradition that the first 
man was made out of the red earth of a certain mountain. On my 
mentioning having read this to Mr. Bray, he remarked how much this 
tradition of a savage nation accorded with the Mosaic account of the 
creation ; since the word Adam, the name of the first man, in the 
Hebrew signifies red earth. 

xvil] LOADSTONE. 263 

extreme brightness." Semi-pellucid columnar quartz 
crystals are frequently found in the fissures of the 
Dartmoor granite ; and the black garnet is discovered 
at Moreton Hampstead, like schorl crystals, and the 
amorphous minutely granulated black schorl. We 
have also on the Moor a compact species of spar, 
that bears a fine polish and is capable of being 
worked the same as marble. I observed a few days 
since several rocks of this description, rising two or 
three feet above the surface of the ground, near 
Holwell, on Whitchurch Down. "In Devonshire/' 
says Risdon, " is found the miraculous loadstone, not 
discovered in this island till the sixteenth century : 
the loadstone, though of an inferior kind, has been 
found on Dartmoor." According to Prideaux, some 
of the hills, or mountainous tracts of the Moor, attain 
a height of nearly two thousand feet; the valleys, 
though they run in various directions, nevertheless 
have a tendency to the north and south. The hills 
are most elevated towards the borders, where the 
granite seems of a harder and closer texture. The 
colour here and there varies ; though its general ap- 
pearance is grey, yet is it found " from almost black 
with schorl, to pure shining white, and some occurs 
of a rich red, superior in beauty to any Egyptian 
granite, particularly where it contains tourmaline. ,, It 
is metalliferous, tin being common; copper is some- 
times found. The granite, though rich in schorl, is 
poor in mica, consequently containing less magnesia, 
and the more subject to the operations of the weather 
from that cause. The line of granite from the town 
of Tavistock to Hay Tor may be pretty accurately 
traced by the coppice, which, clothing the declivities of 
the slate-rocks that abut against it, disappears sud- 


denly on the gritty soil. Cox Tor is a mountain of 
trap, which runs in a northerly direction to Whiter 
Tor and Brazen Tor. " It is almost pure hornblende, 
in different degrees of compactness, and consequently 
of specific gravity." At Cox Tor and Whiter Tor 
it is seen in contact with clay- slate, at Brazen Tor 
with granite. This slate is likewise observed on the 
western sides of the first-named Tor, where it comes 
in contact with the trap. This preserves its laminar 
structure; it has assumed the aspect of flint, and 
gives fire on receiving a blow from the hammer. In 
some places it is become riband jasper, but finer as a 

Mr. Bray noticed in a former paper, that Brent 
Tor was considered by geologists to be a volcanic pro- 
duction ; and as there is evidence of the action of fire 
on the Moor, so likewise is there of water. Alluvial 
tracts are here and there displayed ; and though the 
nature of the granite rocks cannot be doubted, yet 
it is the opinion of Polwhele that the vast fragments 
of stone so wildly scattered everywhere around, or 
piled in the rudest heaps, clearly indicate some 
terrible wreck of a former world. The eminence, for 
instance, which arises above the logan stone at Drews- 
teignton, displays the boldest and the most marked 
vestiges of some great flood. It is the same in other 
parts, particularly near Hay Tor Rock. There " the 
hills are broken up or strangely rounded. The rocks 
along the sides of the hills are smoothed by the 
waters, or shattered by the force of the torrent : 
whilst an infinite number of pebbles are dashed 
around these abrupt masses. The valleys have on 
one spot an even surface, but gravelly and sandy. 

4 Prideaux's Geological Survey, passim. 


On another they are ploughed up into the wildest 
irregularities ; all around, indeed, the very entrails 
of the earth are laid open. These were not common 
floods ; they were such as might divulse the whole 
strata of the hills, wash away the substances that 
had been accumulating for ages, and bring others 
instantaneously into their place. ,,s An intelligent 
correspondent of the same author observes " that the 
convulsion which produced the mountain tracts of 
Blackdown and Haldon, raising themselves, perhaps, 
partly if not wholly from the sea, was not enough to 
throw off all their superficial strata from the clay- 
stones and shells that remain on them ; they may 
therefore be called alluvial mountain tracts. But 
the convulsion being stronger that formed the heights 
of Dartmoor, all superficial strata were thrown off, 
and the granite, which is considered as a primeval 
stratum, appeared. This stratum has nothing upon it 
but a thin vegetable mould that it has since collected. 
This, therefore, in the language of a geologist, may 
be called a primeval mountain tract." 

That Dartmoor has experienced at different periods 
many convulsions of Nature cannot be doubted by 
those who have examined with attention the features 
of that most interesting waste. The last convulsion 
of any extraordinary character occurred in the year 
1752, when, on the 23rd day of February, a smart 
shock of an earthquake was felt at many places on 
the Moor, and its immediate neighbourhood — Mana- 
ton, Moreton Hampstead, and Widdecombe. In the 
last-named village some houses were injured, and one 
of the pinnacles of the tower of the church was thrown 
down. Widdecombe, indeed, seems destined to suffer 

5 Polwhele's Devon. 


by the convulsion of the elements. The most fear- 
ful of these sufferings was alluded to in an extract 
from Mr. Bray's old Journal, given in a former letter. 
It deserves, however, a more particular notice ; and 
the following account, founded on the authority of 
Prince, will I trust be not altogether devoid of interest, 
though it relates to a most melancholy subject. 

On Sunday, the 21st of October, 1638, whilst the 
Rev. George Lyde was performing the evening service 
in his church of Widdecombe, he was suddenly sur- 
prised by such darkness that he could with difficulty 
proceed in his duty. This was followed by inter- 
mittent peals of thunder that sounded afar off like the 
discharge of artillery. The darkness so increased, as 
the tempest drew nearer, that the congregation could 
scarcely see each other ; and whilst the hurricane 
raged without in fearful violence, the choristers sang 
one of the psalms in praise of Him " who maketh the 
clouds his chariot, who walketh upon the wings of the 
wind, who hath His way in the whirlwind, and in the 
storm." At length the whole face of the heavens 
became covered by dense and' black clouds, and all 
was dark as midnight. In a moment this was fear- 
fully dispersed, and the church appeared to be suddenly 
illumined by flames of forked fire. According to 
Prince, these terrific flames were accompanied with 
smoke, and "a loathsome smell like brimstone." A 
ball of fire also burst through one of the windows, 
and passed down the nave of the church, spreading 
consternation in its passage. 

Many of the congregation thought it the final 
judgment of the world : some fell on their faces, and 
lay extended like dead men upon the ground ; others 
beat their breasts, or cried aloud with terror : many 


wept and prayed. The reverend pastor continued in 
his pulpit, amazed by this event, yet by Divine Pro- 
vidence unharmed himself, though a sad spectator of 
the dreadful sufferings around him. His wife was 
scorched by the lightning, but her child, seated by 
her in the same pew, received no injury. A woman 
who attempted to rush out was so miserably burnt 
that she expired that night. Many other persons 
likewise, in a few days after, died from the same 
cause. One unhappy man had his skull so horribly 
fractured, that the brains were found cast upon the 
pavement in an entire state. "But the hair of his 
head," says the chronicler of this event, " stuck fast to 
the pillar ' near him, where it remained a woful 
spectacle a long while after." Several seats were 
turned upside down, yet those who were on them 
received no injury. One man, on rushing out at the 
chancel, saw his dog, that ran before him, whirled 
towards the door, where the animal fell down dead. 
On seeing this the master stepped back, and his life 
was preserved. A beam from the roof fell between 
the pastor and his clerk ; neither was injured. So 
violently was the tower of the church shaken, that 
vast stones were tossed from it, as if from the destroy- 
ing hands of ' an hundred men/ A pinnacle of the 
tower in its fall broke through the roof, wounded 
many, and killed a woman. The pillar against which 
the pulpit stood became black and sulphureous ; 
yet, though thus surrounded by danger on every 
side, the undaunted minister of God never forsook 
his station ; and in reply to a proposal made by some 
one present that all should venture from the church, 
he exclaimed, " Let us make an end of prayer, since 
it is better to die here than in another place !" 



The affrighted congregation, however, seeing the 
building so fearfully shaken and tottering above their 
heads, dared not remain ; and Mr. Lyde was left to 
finish the prayer with the dead and the maimed 
around him ; four persons being killed, and sixty-two 
grievously burnt by the lightning, or wounded by 
the falling of the stones. Carrington thus alludes to 
this awful visitation in his poem of Dartmoor 6 : — 

" Far o'er hill and dale 
Their summons glad the Sabbath-bells had flung ; — 
From hill and dale obedient they had sped 
Who heard the holy welcoming ; and now 
They stood above the venerable dead 
Of centuries, and bowed where they had bowed 
Who slept below. The simple touching tones 

tt The wildest tales respecting this storm, so severely felt in Wid- 
decombe church, are still the theme of tradition with the peasantry ot 
Dartmoor. One story is that the devil, dressed in black and mounted 
on a black horse, inquired his way to the church of a woman who 
kept a little public-house on the Moor. He offered her money to 
become his guide ; but she distrusted him, on remarking that the 
liquor went hissing down his throat, and finally had her suspicions 
confirmed by discovering he had a cloven foot, which he could not 
conceal even by his boot. Another version of the story says, that the 
compact being out which the devil had made with some wicked youth, 
he had the power to seize him, even in the church, if he there found 
him sleeping. On his way through the churchyard, the Evil One 
overturned some boys he found playing at marbles upon the graves ; 
and finding his victim as he expected sleeping in the pew, he caught 
him up by the hair, flew with him through one of the windows, and 
in his flight knocked down the pinnacle that did so much mischief. 
There are many other adventures told concerning the devil in this 
exploit ; but these are the principal. Bishop Hall, in his admirable 
sermon Of the Invisible World, ascribes many storms to the agency of 
wicked spirits ; and mentions that of Widdecombe as an instance. 

I have seen it mentioned in the Quarterly Review, that the Ettrick 
Shepherd, in one of his tales, makes the devil be discovered by the 
wine hissing down his throat whilst drinking. This is a very remark- 
able coincidence with our Dartmoor tradition ; which is not, I will 
venture to say, known beyond this neighbourhood. 



Of England's psalmody ups welled, and all, 
With lip and heart united, loudly sang 
The praises of the Highest. But anon, 
Harsh mingling with that minstrelsy, was heard 
The fitful blast •; — the pictured windows shook, — 
Around the aged tower the rising gale 
Shrill whistled ; and the ancient massive doors 
Swung on their jarring hinges. Then — at once — 
Fell an unnatural calm, and with it came 
A fearful gloom, deep'ning and deep'ning, till 
Twas dark as night's meridian ; for the cloud, 
Descending, had within its bosom wrapt 
The fated dome. At first a herald flash 
Just chased the darkness, and the thunder spoke, 
Breaking the strange tranquillity. But soon 
Pale horror reigned, — the mighty tempest burst 
In wrath appalling ; — forth the lightning sprang, 
And death came with it, and the living writhed 
In that dread flame-sheet. 

" Clasped by liquid fire — 
Bereft of Hope, they madly said the hour 
Of final doom was nigh, and soul and sense 
Wild reeled ; and, shrieking, on the sculptured floor 
Some helpless sank ; and others watched each flash 
With haggard look and frenzied eye, and cowered 
At every thunder-stroke. Again a power 
Unseen dealt death around ! In speechless awe 
The boldest stood ; and when the sunny ray, 
Glancing again on river, field, and wood, 
Had chased the tempest, and they drank once more 
The balmy air, and saw the bow of God, 
His token to the nations, throwing wide 
Its arch of mercy o'er the freshen'd earth, 
How welcome was that light — that breeze — that bow ! 
And oh how deep the feeling that awoke 
To Heaven the hymn of thankfulness and joy \ n 

Though storms attended with thunder and light- 
ning are by no means common on the Moor, yet 
when they do occur they are of a nature so terrific, 
that every one must acknowledge the mercy of Divine 


Providence in not suffering them to be more frequent. 
Were I to repeat to you the notices of such storms 
given by various writers, no spot of like extent in this 
kingdom could perhaps claim so fearful a record as 
the Forest of Dartmoor. The towers of the churches 
in this neighbourhood are by no means lofty, and 
spires are unknown. Possibly this circumstance may 
be the result of design ; the wisdom of our ancestors 
might have suggested the necessity of erecting low 
towers in a region of high lands and mountainous 
* tors, where any very elevated buildings perched upon 
them would have become as points of attraction 
to the clouds surcharged with the electric fluid. This, 
however, is a subject I leave to be discussed by 
those who are much better acquainted with it than 

It is not my intention in these letters to say any 
thing concerning the botany of the Moor. I am too 
ignorant of the subject to write about it, and even if I 
possessed the knowledge that is requisite for such a 
task, it would be unnecessary ; since Mr. Polwhele, 
in his Devon, has given a most copious account of 
all its plants, both common and rare. Another con- 
sideration, also, makes me less anxious on this point. 
It is that you have truly observed in your Colloquies, 
that botanical books are only of interest to botanists. 
You are not I believe particularly partial to that 
science ; and few readers are so. Should these let- 
ters, therefore, ever go farther than Keswick — should 
they go into the hands of any one who might be 
curious on such a point, I have stated where that 
curiosity may be most amply satisfied. The few 
remarks I have to offer respecting the wild products 
of the soil are such as would strike any one who 


has been fond of the pencil ; and who consequently 
acquires a feeling, or as artists term it an eye, for 
the picturesque; an eye which becomes the inlet to 
one of the most innocent, delightful, and lasting 
pleasures of human life; a pleasure that fills the 
whole heart with the best and the most grateful 
feelings towards that Divine Providence, which has 
everywhere spread around us such a world of beauty 
and variety, for the solace, the delight, and the service 
of his creatures. 

It is on this account, therefore, that even the 
slightest knowledge of drawing becomes so valuable ; 
since it teaches the young student to see a thousand 
minute beauties of light, shadow, form, and colour, 
that would escape an uncultivated observer. And 
this is the reason why I would have all young per- 
sons taught to draw, as they are taught to write; 
since, though it requires talent to make a good 
artist, and genius to form a great one, yet I am per- 
suaded that there are few, if any, so dull, but that 
they may be taught to imitate the forms they see 
before their eyes, even as they learn to write the 
alphabet; and when I add that on venturing to 
make this observation to Mr. Stothard, senior, the 
historical painter, he concurred in such opinion, it 
will be found not unsupported by a very high 

During the spring in our neighbourhood, and, I 
believe, in most parts of Devon, nothing can exceed 
the gorgeous display made by the golden blossom of 
our furze. It is said that when Linnaeus was in 
England, he was more struck with the magnificent 
appearance of this wild furze than with any other of 
our native plants. It grows most abundantly on 

272 THE WILD FURZE. [let. 

tracts of waste land, by the side of roads, and on 
certain portions of Dartmoor. Near Moreton Hamp- 
stead it is seen so thick and splendid, that it might 
be compared to an embroidery of gold on velvet of 
the richest green. I have seen this furze, when 
skilfully managed by a tasteful artist, introduced 
with good effect in foregrounds ; where, like the rich 
opposition of colour in the pictures of Titian, it con- 
trasts finely with the deep and ultramarine tints of 
the sky and the distant tors. Our May blossoms 
too, growing on the thorns in the hedges, are ex- 
ceedingly luxuriant, and beautifully clustered. And 
scarcely does the yellow blossom of the furze dis- 
appear, when there comes forth in such abundance 
as I have never seen in any other county, that most 
elegant of all wild flowers, and most delicately 
painted in its bell, the digitalis, or foxglove ; or, as 
the peasantry here call it, the ' flop-a-dock.' The 
height to which these plants grow in Devon is 
extraordinary. I have seen many hills so covered 
with them, that viewed in combination they have 
produced an effect truly magnificent ; especially 
where some of our noble ferns interposed to add 
that variety of form and colour so essential to the 
picturesque. The white foxglove is an exceedingly 
rare plant even here, where I have always understood 
botanists find so choice a field for their pursuits : it is 
found on Dartmoor. In Somerset and Devon, the 
common people use a decoction of it as a most 
powerful emetic ; too powerful, I should think, to 
be taken with safety. 

Whortleberries are both fine and plentiful on some 
parts of the Moor. They are delicious (somewhat 
resembling in flavour the American cranberry) when 

xvii.] WILD FLOWERS. 273 

made into tarts and eaten with that luxury of all 
luxuries, the clouted, or as we call it scalded, cream 
of our delightful county. The heath-polt principally 
feeds on the whortleberry that grows wild on the 
Moors. Round the tors of the Forest the finest white 
clover springs up spontaneously ; and no doubt this 
in a great degree renders the Moor so excellent in 
the pasture it affords the sheep. 

TThough I have confessed my entire ignorance 
of botanical subjects, which I regret, I can tell, 
nevertheless, many of our wild flowers by the names 
that are prevalent among the peasantry. Some of 
these it may be as well to mention, since they are 
of antique date. And who would do other than look 
with an eye of interest on the pretty flowers that were 
chosen by Ophelia to form her 'fantastic garlands/ as 
she strayed by the * glassy stream ' under the willow 
that grew 'ascaunt the brook* ? 

" There on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds 
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke ; 
When down her weedy trophies, and herself, 
Fell in the weeping brook." 

We have here crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and 
'long-purples/ and many other plants whose names 
are as ancient, as poetical, or as fantastic; for here, 
too, the 'long-purples' are called 'dead-men's fin- 
gers/ And poor Ophelia herself might have sung 
snatches of old tunes, as she formed garlands from 
flowers so wildly called as ours. We have the 
' maiden hair/ a pretty pendent plant for her ' coro- 
net;' and the 'lost-love' that would have reminded 
her of Hamlet ; and the ' shepherd's calendar/ and 
the 'one o'clock/ the very dial of poetry; and the 
' cuckoo-flower/ that opens its little pink buds at the 

vol. 1. T 

274 NAMES OF BIRDS. [let. 

time the bird from which it borrows its name does his 
note. And we have, too, the ' snapdragon/ as varied 
and as beautiful as any garden flower. And the 
'thormantle/ excellent as a medicine in fevers; and 
the ' cat's-eyes/ that are as blue as ether, with a 
little white pupil in the centre ; and ' bright-eye,' 
with its glossy leaves ; and ' mother of millions,' 
with its numerous small drooping flowers ; and 
'honesty/ whose bells hang like open purses oy 
the side of its stem. ' Milk-maidens ' are little 
white flowers that grow in the meadows, or on the 
banks of running streams. And Love supplies 
many with his name; for we have a plant called 
'seven years' love;' and 'love entangled/ a wild 
picturesque flower that grows on the tops of old 
houses ; and ' love in a puzzle/ a delicate plant with 
leaves resembling in colour the wings of an early 
butterfly. We have also the blue 'hare-bell/ The 
harmless nettle is here called ' archangels/ And 
indeed we have a vast variety of others that speak 
in their very names the imaginative and poetic cha- 
racter of our forefathers in this lovely county. 

As we have provincial names for the plants, so 
have we likewise for the birds. A grave naturalist 
would smile did he hear some of these. That beau- 
tifully-feathered bird, the yellow-hammer, which I 
can never meet without delight, as he spreads his 
wings and mounts and flutters aloft, is here known 
by no other name than the one which so truly expres- 
ses his character — the 'gladdy;' and it does indeed 
glad one's very eyes to see him. And then when I 
open the postern gate in the old Abbey walls at the 
end of the garden, and look out upon the foaming 
Tavy and its rocks, there I meet a pretty little fellow 

xvil] NAMES OF BIRDS. 275 

skimming over them, or dropping his wings and 
resting a moment, and constantly wagging his fan- 
tail of black and grey feathers over the old stones ; an 
action which has procured for him the name of the 
1 dish-washer.' And we have, too, the ' mazed-finch/ 
a truly Devonian appellative, given to one species of 
this tribe in consequence of its wild and incessant 
motion. We have also, as the little boys here say, 

" The robin and the wren, 
God Almighty's cock and hen." 

And then we have birds called by as compound 
epithets as if the good folks who gave them had 
studied Homer. For we have the 'ox-eyed titmouse/ 
a little bit of a bird not bigger than a wren, with a 
breast as white as snow. We have, likewise, the 
' heck-mall/ a busy bird, and fond of making himself 
comfortable : a hole in an old apple tree, or a snug 
cell in the Abbey wall which some loosened stone has 
left for him, are to him as a palace ; and there he lives 
as happy as a more ambitious bird amongst the 
loftiest rocks, even as 


" The lordly eagle sitting in his chair." 

The ' hoop ' is a bird of the same family, who makes 
more noise than he does work ; and being somewhat 
choice in his dwelling, he selects an old hole that is 
well sheltered with ivy. The 'furze-chatterer/ it is 
probable, admires the golden bushes from which he 
takes his name as much as did Linnaeus himself, 
since he regularly frequents them ; and there, if he is 
not to be seen, he is constantly to be heard ; and, like 
most great talkers, repeats the same note over and 
over again. We also have a bird called ' black-headed 
Bob/ a merry fellow ; and well does he deserve his 

276 INSECTS. [let. 

name ; for whilst his bill is not idle in picking up what 
he can, his head bobs about from side to side, with a 
motion as perpetual as that of a Chinese joss. Part 
of his family are aristocratic, for the 'black-winged 
duke ' is certainly of his kindred ; but whereas Bob 
carries all his sable colours, like a black-plumed 
warrior, upon his head, the 'duke' displays his sables 
more like a mantle, about his back and wings. The 
' stone-knocker ' is the very mason of his tribe : he is 
fond of rivers and mountain streams, and will peck, 
peck, the very granite with his bill, till he finds a hole 
to his taste, and then he makes himself happy and 
brings home his love. 

Knowing little about entomology, I have had 
recourse to Mr. Polwhele, to see what help he could 
give me; and as common insects are not grand 
enough to be named after such a catalogue as Bob 
and his kindred have afforded in the feathered tribe, 
I shall only say that Mr. Polwhele declares of insects 
that he is acquainted with none here which are not 
common to other counties, unless it be the stag beetle, 
and the mole cricket. He gives a very full and a 
curious account of both these insects. And here I 
may observe that the cricket's cry, which I. believe in 
all other counties is considered a cheerful and a 
welcome note, the harbinger of joy, is deemed by our 
peasantry ominous of sorrow and evil. The phalcena 
pavonia, or 'emperor moth/ has been seen sporting 
and showing his magnificent wings on the boundary 
walls of the Abbey in our garden. 7 

7 A beetle of the most rare kind has lately been discovered in the 
woods of Walreddon, about two miles from Tavistock. It is said to be 
the only specimen of this peculiar sort that has ever been found in 
England, I made a note of its name, but have mislaid it. 


I must not venture upon any account of the finny 
tribes ; for so little did I know about them that till 
I read Walton's Angler (which almost made me long 
to go a-fishing myself in out* streams) I scarcely knew 
what kind of fish inhabit rivers only, and not the 
seas. And having no taste for fish, it is merely by 
the report of others that I can assure you our trout 
are as fine as trout can be ; and that the rivers on the 
Moor abound with them in such plenty, that good 
old Izaak, or your friend Sir Humphry Davy, would 
have delighted to throw a fly along their banks. We 
have too salmon in abundance ; and we have likewise 
the old story, common to all salmon countries, that 
the ''prentices' in former times used to make it a 
part of the bargain in their indentures not to be 
obliged to dine off salmon more than five times a 

Our reptiles, saving one, are known by their general 
names, none having provincial ones, excepting the 
snake, and he is called the 'long -cripple;' 8 but why 
or wherefore is more than I know. Toads we have 
in abundance ; they principally frequent the pools in 
this county. I remember a fine fat one, that was 
long an inhabitant of a hole under the ancient still- 
house of the Abbey in our garden ; and so fearless 
was he, that in my favourite walk to this spot he 
would pop out of his hole, squat himself down in the 
middle of the path, and look at me as if he were a 
sentinel keeping watch before the old tower. He had 
very large bright eyes ; and was, I can vouch from 
long acquaintance, as beautiful and as civil as a toad 
could be. Mr. Bray once observed one of these reptiles 
under a hedge with a monstrous snake coiled round 

8 Perhaps from long creeper. 

278 REPTILES. [let. 

him, but whether to exert his powers of fascination 
upon the poor toad, or to do battle with him, Mr. Bray- 
could not determine. Mr. Polwhele gives a curious ac- 
count of a toad that inhabited a hole before the hall 
door of a Mr. Arscott of Tetcott, in this county, which, 
during the space of thirty years, was a familiar friend 
with that gentleman, and would feed from his hand. 

We have several species of lizards. The eft and 
the long cripple are also common here; and as to 
vipers, only take a ramble on Dartmoor on a very 
hot day, and you will see more of such reptiles than, 
I will venture to say, you have ever seen before or 
would wish to see again. I never venture there 
without putting on a good pair of stout boots ; and I 
would advise all my female friends who may be en- 
thusiastic in search of the picturesque to follow my 
example ; since the finest scenery of the Moor is to 
be found amidst the wild and hidden valleys and 
the broken rocks, where vipers most abound. To go 
among them as guarded as possible against being 
bitten will be found a necessary precaution. 9 

I have now, I believe? named our principal reptiles. 
Under what class the bat is to be ranked I do not 
know ; for though it has wings it is not a bird ; and 
as it does not crawl it can hardly be called a reptile. 
But I mention it here because the remains of the 
Abbey, beautifully hung with ivy, abound with the 
finest bats I have ever seen. They sometimes come 
into our house. One, with a noble pair of horns, 
(that reminded me of the horned-head dress worn by 
the ladies in the time of Henry IV., when they were 
obliged to heighten the doors at court to give them 

• The labourers on the Moor, particularly the peat-cutters, swathe 
their legs with ropes of straw to guard against the vipers. 

xvii.] A CURIOUS BAT. 279 

free passage) we caught at night; and as I wished 
more particularly to examine it by daylight, I put 
my prisoner into the warming-pan, to secure him for 
that purpose. Next morning, when I gently raised 
the lid, no bat was to be found ; and as nobody knew 
anything about the matter, it was settled by universal 
consent in our kitchen, that either a 'pisgy* had let 
him out, or that with his horns he had pushed up the 
lid and effected his own escape. 



Vestiges of ancient Customs still found on the Moor — Sacred solemni- 
ties of the Druids to Bel, or the Sun — Bel Tor the scene of ancient 
Rites — May-fires in Cornwall and Devon — British Custom respecting 
Cattle, formerly observed on the Moor — Vestige of the sacrificial Rite 
to the God Bel — Cuckoo's Note, an Omen — Lines on the Cuckoo- 
Mayday in the West of England — The Hobby-horse ; its high an- 
tiquity — Conjecture respecting its being a Vestige of the Sacred 
Horse, &c. — Horses, as sacred offerings, so considered by many 
Nations of Antiquity— a Vestige of such Offerings found in Chival- 
rous Times — Examples given — The Druidical Festivals of the 
West — That of Godo, the British Ceres — Harvest — The curious 
Ceremony still observed by the Reapers, near Dartmoor, at the 
end of the Harvest — Conjectured to be the Vestige of a British 
Custom — Plants held Sacred — Herbs — Charms — Two Charms in 
barbarous Rhymes — The Apple Tree — Old Custom of Saluting 
it — The last of October the great Day with the British Priest- 
hood — To beg Fire at the Doors of the Rich, on that Day, once 
practised by the Peasantry of the West — Old Midsummer Day — 
Decay of Ancient Customs on the Moor — Letter from the Rev. 
Thomas Johnes on the Animals of the West. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, June gth, 1832. 

I PURPOSE giving you in this letter some slight 
account of the few vestiges of those ancient customs 
which still linger in their decay, not only on Dart- 
moor, but throughout this neighbourhood. My reason 
for introducing them here is that I consider they derive 
their origin from British times. 

Many of the sacred solemnities of the Druids were 

let. xviii.] ANCIENT RITES. 281 

observed on particular days. Amongst these was the 
festival of the god Belus, or Bel, on the first of May. 
I have before noticed that on the Moor we have Bel 
Tor, commonly pronounced by the peasantry Bell6 
Tor ; thus adding the vowel to the termination of the 
word, as they do in the name of the Forest itself, 
which they often call Dart^moor. It is, perhaps, the 
ancient pronunciation ; for we find Chaucer accents 
the e. When speaking of a native of a Devonshire 
town, he says — 

" For wel I wot he was of Dartemouth. ,, 

I have no doubt that on Mayday, sacred to Bel, or 
the Sun, his tor on Dartmoor exhibited all the rites 
and ceremonies due to the worship of that god. 
There on its summit in all probability the cairn fires 
were kindled, as victims were immolated, and the 
earliest fruits and blossoms of the earth received the 
benediction of the priest. It is not improbable that 
the spring season of the year was chosen for the high 
festival of the Sun, in order to celebrate his renewed 
power, since he might then be considered as beginning 
to dispense his warmer beams to raise the seeds of 
the ground in promise of the future harvest. Many 
august ceremonies were likewise observed on Mayday- 
eve. Toland gives a very curious account of the 
' Beltan fires ' that in his time were still kindled on a 
heap of stones, called a cairn in many parts of Ireland, 
whilst the peasantry danced and sang round the 

In the counties of Cornwall and Devon, ' May fires ' 
were long numbered amongst the sports of Mayday, 
though I believe in our county they are now fallen 
into total oblivion. So likewise is that very ancient 

282 MAY-FIRES. [let. 

custom with the peasantry of the Moor, to collect 
together a quantity of straw, to pile it up on one of 
the heaps of stone, and then setting fire to it to force 
their cows to pass over the expiring embers, in order 
to make them fruitful in milk, and to preserve them 
from disease during the rest of the year. As nothing 
has been heard of this custom of late years I conclude 
it is extinct ; but can there be a doubt that it was a 
vestige of the sacrificial rites to the god Bel ? And 
this opinion is confirmed by the circumstance of the 
Druids sacrificing on Mayday-eve a spotted cow. 
" It was the season in which British mythology com- 
memorated the egress from the ark ; the place where 
this cow was sacrificed afforded rest to the deified 
patriarch, who is here styled Ysadawn, the consumer." * 
The cuckoo's note was hailed by the British priest- 
hood as the harbinger of the sacrifices of Mayday- 
eve. With the Devonians the cuckoo is still an 
ominous bird ; since to hear him for the first time on 
the left hand — as I did this year — is considered a 
marvellous sign of ill luck. Some unlettered muse 
of our county has thus, truly enough, expressed his 
peculiarities in rhyme — 

"In the month of April, 
He opens his bill ; 
In the month of May, 
He singeth all day ; 
In the month of June, 
He alters his tune ; 
In the month of July, 
Away he doth fly.'' 

Mayday is still celebrated in the West of England, 
though not so gaily as it used to be some years ago, 
when I have heard my husband say the milkmaids of 

1 Davies's British Mythology.' 

xviil.] MAYDAY. 283 

this place would borrow plate of the gentry to hang 
upon their milk-pails, intermixed with bunches of 
ribands and crowns of flowers. It is, I believe, uni- 
versally allowed that no custom has a higher claim to 
heathen antiquity than the erection of a May-pole, 
garlanded with flowers, as the signal-post of mirth 
and rejoicing for the day. These May-poles have, I 
believe, of late years, experienced some change ; in 
former times they were often stationary; now, we 
generally see only the verdant pyramid crowned with 
flowers. This pyramid joins the procession, and 
sometimes even the dance ; it receives its motion 
from having concealed within it a good stout fellow, 
strong and tall enough to perform the part for the 
day. ' Jack-in-the-bush ' is his name ; and he has 
existed (so am I told) as long as the May-pole 

Robin Hood, St. George and the Dragon, Maid 
Marian, the Hobby-horse and the ladle, have long 
been forgotten with us, though once so famous in the 
West. Yet I cannot pass the mention of the Hobby 
without venturing a conjecture of my own respecting 
his origin, which differs from the generally- received 
opinion. The antique Hobby, like the present May- 
pole, was formed by a man being dressed up, so as 
to disguise his humanity, with a pasteboard head 
resembling that of a horse, decorated with a real 
mane, and the performer could also boast a real tail. 
He was in fact made to look as' much like a four- 
footed animal as a biped could possibly be made to 
do. Ribands, gilt paper, and gaudy flowers were 
disposed about him by way of decoration, and the 
ladle stuck in the mouth of the horse received the 
donation pennies of the boys and girls, to be spent 

284 THE HOBBY. [let. 

in keeping up the sports. This Hobby was very gay 
and gorgeous, and hence have we, in all probability, 
the common saying of 'as fine as the horse/ to ex* 
press extravagant decoration in the dress of an indi- 
vidual. This is the grotesque figure to which Hamlet 
alludes when he exclaims, " Heigho ! the Hobby-horse 
is forgot ;" and well might he do so, for it was falling 
into neglect even in the days of Elizabeth, though it 
survived in the West longer than in any other part 
of the kingdom. 

Now this Mayday Hobby, with all submission to 
the learned, I cannot help thinking has a claim to 
much higher antiquity in its origin than they are 
pleased to assign to it ; and that- it is nothing less 
than a vestige, or figure rather, of the sacred horse, 
dedicated to Bel, the god of the Sun, on the first of 
May, by the British Druids. The custom, no doubt, 
came from the East, as did most customs of the Celtic 
nations. Dedicating horses to the Sun is spoken of 
even in the Bible ; where we are told that the good 
King Josiah, who destroyed the groves of the idola- 
trous priests, took away the horses they had dedicated 
to the Sun. Tacitus also, in describing the manners 
of the ancient Germans, mentions the neighing of the 
sacred horses, as being consulted for the purposes of 
divination by priests and kings. The Saxons, before 
their conversion to Christianity, devoted horses to 
Odin, as a more noble offering than that of pigs 
sacrificed to Frea his wife. And, however impatient 
the Roman Catholics may be at the mention of it, 
there is nothing more certain than that many of the 
customs and ceremonies of their church were borrowed 
from the idolatrous rites of the ancient heathens. 
That custom, so frequent in the ages of chivalry, of 

xviii.] SACRED OFFERINGS. 285 

offering at the altar the horse of the victor, in all 
probability derived its origin from pagan antiquity. 
Many instances of such offerings might be cited ; 
one or two will here suffice. 

There must have been something very noble in 
such sights as were presented by the offerings in 
question : when Philippe de Valois, for instance, 
after a great victory, entered the cathedral of Notre 
Dame fully armed and mounted on his war-horse, 
as he moved slowly on, surrounded by the solemn 
assembly of priests and warriors, whilst emblazoned 
banners waved above his head, and the flame of a 
thousand tapers glanced amidst column and fretted 
arch, to offer up his arms and his horse to 'Our Lady 
of Victory.' So likewise at the funeral of the valiant 
Gaston Phoebus Count de Foix, his horse and arms 
were solemnly offered at the altar of Orthes, and 
were afterwards redeemed for a large sum in gold. 

To return to the Druidical festivals of the West. 
That we have still some vestiges of that sacred to 
Godo, the British Ceres, (so frequently mentioned in 
the ancient poems of the bards) whose rites were 
observed at the time of harvest, cannot I think be 
doubted. And as I have myself witnessed these, I 
can speak with more confidence on the subject. 
The few following particulars will be found not un- 
worthy the notice of the antiquary. 

One evening, about the end of harvest, I was 
riding out on my pony, attended by a servant who 
was born and bred a Devonian. We were passing 
near a field on the borders of Dartmoor, where the 
reapers were assembled. In a moment the pony 
started nearly from one side of the way to the other, 
so sudden came a shout from the field which gave 


him this alarm. On my stopping to ask my servant 
what all that noise was about, he seemed surprised 
by the question, and said, " It was only the people 
making their games, as they always did, to the spirit 
of the harvest? Such a reply was quite sufficient to 
induce me to stop immediately, as I felt certain here 
was to be observed some curious vestige of a most 
ancient superstition ; and I soon gained all the in- 
formation I could wish to obtain upon the subject. 
The offering to the 'spirit of the harvest' is thus 

When the reaping is finished, toward evening the 
labourers select some of the best ears of corn from 
the sheaves ; these they tie together, and it is called . 
the nack. Sometimes, as it was when I witnessed 
the custom, this nack is decorated with flowers, 
twisted in with the reed, which gives it a gay and 
fantastic appearance. The reapers then proceed to 
a high place (such, in fact, was the field on the side 
of a steep hill where I saw them) and there they go, 
to use their own words, to 'holla the nack/ The 
man who bears this offering stands in the midst, 
elevates it, whilst all the other labourers form them- 
selves into a circle about him ; each holds aloft his 
hook, and in a moment they all shout, as loud as 
they possibly can, these words, which I spell as I 
heard them pronounced, and I presume they are 
not to be found in any written record. 'Arnack, 
arnack, arnack, we^aven, we&zven, wehaven' 2 This 

2 "A knack? says Fosbroke, "is a curious kind of figure, hung 
up and kept till the next year.*' Thus we have in Shakspere — "A 
knack, a toy, a trick, a baby's cap." I venture, also, to consider that 
'wehaven' is a corruption of wee ane, 'a little one/ or child. — See 
Johnson's Diet., wee. For this note and the following I am indebted 
to Mr. Bray. He suggests that Pixy may be derived either from pix 


is repeated three several times ; and the firkin is 
handed round between each shout, by way I conclude 
of libation. When the weather is fine, different 
parties of reapers, each stationed on some height, 
may be heard for miles round, shouting as it were in 
answer to each other. 

The evening I witnessed this ceremony, many 
women and children, some carrying boughs, and 
others having flowers in their caps or in their hands 
or in their bonnets, were seen, some dancing, others 
singing, whilst the men (whose exclamations so 
startled my pony) practised the above rites in a 
ring. When we recollect that in order to do so 
the reapers invariably assemble on some high place, 
that they form themselves into a circle, whilst one of 
their party holds the offering of the finest ears of 
corn in the middle of the ring, can we for a moment 
doubt this custom is a vestige of Druidism ? The 
man so elevating the offering is, in all probability, 
no other than the successor of the priest, whose duty 
it was to offer up the first and best fruits of the 
harvest to the goddess who fostered its increase, as 
his brother priests formed about him that circle which 
was held sacred in the forms and offices of religion ; 
and I cannot but conclude that we have not through- 
out the whole kingdom a more curious rite derived 
from Pagan antiquity, than the one just mentioned 
on the borders of Dartmoor. 

or pax, possibly both, as these words have been confounded by no less 
a lexicographer than Johnson. Pix signifies " a little chest or box, in 
which the consecrated host is kept in Roman Catholic countries ;" and 
Pax "a sort of little image, a piece of bread, having the image of Christ 
upon the cross on it ; which the people, before the Reformation, used 
to kiss after the service was ended, that ceremony Jaeing considered as 
a kiss of peace. 'Kiss the pax, and be quiet with your neighbours.' 
Chapman's Comedy of May Day ( 1 6 1 1 ). " 


I do not here allude to the mode of charming 
adders with the ashen bough or wand, still practised 
on the Moor, because I have before spoken at large 
on that subject. A few other customs though less 
striking in their character merit some attention, as 
they all help to throw light on that obscurity which 
involves .the earliest .ages in the history of this part 
of England. 

We know from ancient writers that the British 
priesthood held sacred many plants, herbs, and trees. 
Their reverence for the all-heal or mistletoe is too 
universally known to require being noticed here. 
But it is not a little remarkable that the common 
people of Dartmoor, and indeed throughout all this 
neighbourhood, hold in great reverence many herbs, 
which they use to cure divers diseases, accompanying 
their applications, even as did the Druids, with sun- 
dry mystical charms in barbarous verse. Nothing 
can be more barbarous than the rhymes that com- 
pose them ; and these are used over many of their 
decoctions from herbs that are really medicinal. The 
names by which such decoctions and herbs are known 
would puzzle a better botanist than I shall ever be ; 
since who, for instance, would ever guess what was 
meant by 'organs tea/ an excellent potation for a 
cold, and here much in request. Other names equally 
strange could I repeat, if by any possibility I could 
guess what letters of the alphabet when put together 
would produce any word to express similar uncouth 

I have been charmed myself, though against my 
will, by the good-natured assiduity of an old servant, 
who when I was suffering from inflammation in the 
eyes determined to cure me by one of these heathenish 

xviii.] CHARMS. 289 

rites. Mr. Courtenay, of Walreddon House, in this 
neighbourhood, was also charmed for the same com- 
plaint by an old woman who exercised her skill upon 
him without his permission ; and as he has never 
since been troubled with his old disorder, the cure is 
duly ascribed to successful magic by the vulgar. 

Divested of their superstitions we have, indeed, 
in this town and neighbourhood many useful elderly 
women, who act not only as charmers but as nurses ; 
and who, with a little more instruction, might become 
as serviceable as that most praiseworthy and respect- 
able of all the religious orders of the Church of 
Rome — the Nuns of Charity. The charms which 
they hold in such estimation are carefully handed 
down from one generation to another. This is done 
by a woman communicating the secret of these mys- 
teries to a man, or a man, to a woman, as the most 
likely means of preserving them in their full efficacy ; 
now and then, however, they tell the secret to one of 
their own sex. Here is a barbarous string of rhymes 
to stop an effusion of blood : 

" Jesus was born in Bethlehem, 
Baptized in river Jordan, when 
The water was wild in the wood, 
The person was just and good, 
God spake, and the water stood, 
And so shall now thy blood — 

' In the name of the Father, Son/ Sec." 

If a man or woman has been injured by a scald or 

burn, then shall the charmer place her hand gently 

on the hurt, and in a soft voice shall say — 

" Three angels came from the north, east, and west, 
One brought fire, another brought ice, 
And the third brought the Holy Ghost, 
So out fire and in frost. 
' In the name/ &c." 

VOL. I. U 


But these are Christian charms, grafted no doubt on 
heathenish superstitions. There are others, however, 
more decidedly of Pagan origin. 

The apple-tree, brought into this country by the 
Romans, was soon held in almost sacred estimation 
by the Britons ; it is frequently referred to as sym- 
bolical by the Welsh bards. 3 Probably the reverence 
that was paid to it might have arisen from the 
mistletoe being found to grow upon it as well as upon 
the oak. 4 On Christmas eve the farmers and their 
men in this part of the world often take a large bowl 
of cider with toast in it, and carrying it in state to 
the orchard, salute the apple-trees with much cere- 
mony, in order to make them bear well the next 
season. This salutation consists in throwing some of 
the cider about the roots of the trees, placing bits of' 
the toast on the branches * and then forming them- 
selves into a ring, they, like the bards of old, set up 
their voices and sing a song, which may be found in 
Brand's Popular Antiquities.* 

3 " Hywell, the son of Owen, thus sings : — * I love in the summer 
season the prancing steeds of the placid-smiling chiefs ; in the presence 
of the gallant Lord who rules the foam-covered nimbly-moving wave.' 
But another has won the token of the apple-spray, and Gwalchmai thus 
sings: — 'The point of the apple-tree supporting blossoms, proud cover- 
ing of the wood, declares — everyone's desire tends to the place of his 
affections.'" — Davies's Bards. 

4 On reading this letter, Mr. Southey made the following note : 

" Mistletoe is so rare upon the oak, that a reward was offered for dis- 
covering it there some five or six and thirty years ago, by the Society 
of the Adelphi, I believe. It was found (and the prize obtained for it) 
at a place called the Boyse, in Gloucestershire, on the borders of 
Herefordshire, and there I saw it." 

8 Brand mentions the custom of saluting the apples as still practised 
in Cornwall and Devon. He gives two of the songs thus : — 

" Here 's to thee, old apple-tree, 
Whence thou may'st bud, and whence thou may'st blow 1 
And whence thou may'st bear apples enow ! 

xvni.] THE LAST OF OCTOBER. 291 

The last of October was, however, the principal, 
and indeed the most terrific day of all Druidical 
festivals : and truly may it also be called one of 
craft ; since on that day every person was compelled 
to extinguish all fire in his house, and come to the 
priest, in order to obtain from him a consecrated 
brand, taken from the altar, to renew it. But if any 
begged this without having previously paid whatever 
might be due to the priest, it was denied to him, and 
the terrific sentence of excommunication pronounced. 
This sentence consigned the miserable defaulter to a 
lingering death from cold and hunger. His cattle 
were seized ; he had no fire to cheer his home or to 
dress food for his subsistence, or to warm him in the 
depth of winter, whilst surrounded by frosts and 
snows. No friend, kindred, or neighbour, was allowed 
to supply him with fire, under pain of incurring the 
like cruel sentence. Never surely did an idolatrous 
priesthood invent a more certain or more cruel means 
of enforcing their extortions. 

To beg fire at the doors of the rich on the last day 
of October, when the gift was generally accompanied 
by some trifling donation in money, I have some- 
where read, was with the poor formerly a custom in 
the western parts of England, as well as in Wales. 
It is now, I believe, wholly extinct. But on old 
Midsummer-day, the farmers of the Moor ride about, 

Hats full! caps full! 

Bushel— bushel— sacks full, 

And my pockets full too ! Huzza ! " 

The other song runs thus : — 

" Health to thee, good apple-tree 
Well to bear, pocket-fulls, hat-fulls, 
Peck-fulls, bushel-bag-fulls." 

This last is, I understand, the song of this neighbourhood on ob- 
serving the custom. 


and lay hands on all the stray cattle or sheep they 
can find ; these are consigned to the Pound ; and 
they receive so much per head for all thus found. 

The decay of ancient customs on Dartmoor is 
mainly to be attributed to what are considered its 
improvements. The chief amongst these was the 
erection of the French Prison. I have been told it 
was calculated to contain ten thousand prisoners ; if 
this statement is correct or not I cannot say. The 
building also of Prince Town, Tor Royal, the mansion 
of Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, and other habitations belong- 
ing to persons of property and influence, are all things 
that have helped to civilize the peasantry of the Moor, 
and to root out in a great degree their ancient super- 
stitions ; though, I believe, in no part of England has 
the march of intellect been at a slower pace than on 
the Moor. Many of its inhabitants cannot read ; 
they speak the broadest Devonshire ; but are in their 
general character a simple and honest race, and as 
hardy as the aboriginal inhabitants of the soil. 

Since writing the above, I have been favoured with 
some few particulars respecting our animals in this 
neighbourhood, from a friend who is well known 
amongst us on account of his talents and worth — the 
Rev. Thomas Johnes, Rector of Bradstone, Devon. 
This gentleman, for whom we entertain a very high 
regard, to the pursuits of a scholar unites those of a 
naturalist, and has a feeling command of his pencil 
in the delineation of our scenery. Whenever you 
honour us with a visit at Tavistock, we hope to take 
you to see his beautiful collection of birds. These he 
stuffed himself, and in a manner superior t6 any I 
ever yet saw elsewhere ; for he has been most happy 
in giving such a position to each as best to convey an 

xviii.] QUADRUPEDS. 293 

idea of the action of the bird. Many of them are 
very beautiful ; one hawk I particularly remember, 
with its prey; it looks as if it had at the instant 
darted upon it and grasped it in its talons. 

Mr. Johnes thus begins his letter to me : — " At 
last I have summoned resolution to send you the 
long-promised account of the animals of this county. 
I anxiously hope that you will not be disappointed ; 
and I am sure you will treat me with all due consi- 
deration when you reflect how confined and hackneyed 

is the subject which I have handled The 

different species of four-footed animals, natives of 
this country, are so few in number, and for the 
most part so familiar to the sight, that a particular 
description of each, or a lengthened detail of their 
habits and manners, would be superfluous. 

"The effect of that variety of soil and climate, 
which is a striking peculiarity of the district you 
have undertaken to describe, is most conspicuous in 
the breeds of domesticated quadrupeds : the wild 
sorts preserve their distinctions of size and form pretty 
constantly wherever they are found in this kingdom. 
Having first noticed the few varieties of domestic 
quadrupeds which are the produce of this district, I 
shall add such remarks on the others as are furnished 
by my own observations and the experience of cre- 
dible friends. 

" The Dartmoor pony is usually about twelve hands 
and a half in height, coarse in its form, but surprisingly 
spirited and hardy. The late Edward Bray, Esq., of 
Tavistock, reared great numbers of these horses, 
which were disposed of at an annual sale held on the 
Moor. Since the death of that gentleman the breed 
is become almost extinct. 

294 QUADRUPEDS. [let. 

" The North Devon breed of oxen, in great purity, 
is the common neat stock of this country. Its excel- 
lence consists in the superiority of its fatting quality. 
Heifers or cows of three and four years old are pre- 
ferred for feeding ; and they are fit for the market in 
the short period of twenty weeks. They are not 
much esteemed for the dairy, yielding but a small 
quantity of milk, and not of the richest quality. 
There is great symmetry in their form, and an ap- 
pearance of high breed, but they are apt to be too 
long in the legs, and too flat in the ribs. 

"The Dartmoor sheep, which produces the well- 
known Okehampton mutton, is a small breed weighing 
about fourteen pounds per quarter. They are kept 
on the Moor during the summer, and the cheapness 
of their feed, which amounts to twenty pence a score 
for that season, and from seven to nine pence for the 
winter, makes it profitable to the farmer to keep large 
flocks of them, principally for the sake of their wool, 
which averages seven pounds a fleece. Their superior 
flavour may be ascribed principally to the nature of 
the animal, and partly to the circumstance of their 
being killed at a more mature age than is usual in 
other places. By no means can it be attributed to 
the herbage of the Moor, which is exceedingly coarse 
and deficient in nourishment. 

"The red deer, called in Devonshire the forester, 
or forest deer, was once abundant in the extensive 
woods on the banks of the Tavy and the Tamar, and 
many packs of stag-hounds were kept in the neigh- 
bourhood. 6 The hall in the manor-house of Bradstone 

6 So numerous were the red deer in this immediate neighbourhood, 
that the late Mr. Bray often mentioned that he could recollect, in the 
time of the then Duke of Bedford's grandfather, the farmers petitioning 

xviil] QUADRUPEDS. 295 

is still adorned with the trophies of this glorious chase, 
the skulls and horns of the forester forming an appro- 
priate series of metopes round that ancient room. 
But it is long ago extinct. A solitary straggler now 
and then visits us from the North of Devon : one 
was seen in the woods of Hornacott Manor, on the 
banks of the Tamar, in the spring and summer of 183 1. 
" The otter is an inhabitant of all the rivers in this 
neighbourhood. The river Ottery, or. Ottry, which 
rises in the parish of Otterham, and falls into the 
Tamar at Werrington, is supposed to derive its name 
from the numbers of these animals formerly found in 
it. The hunting of the otter is hereabouts a favourite 
and agreeable summer sport. It is necessary to com- 
mence at or before day-break, as the animal seldom 
moves in the day-time, and the heat of the sun quickly 
exhales the scent It is a hardy and wary creature, 
very tenacious of life ; and success in this sport can 
only be insured by men and dogs who have been 
long and well trained to it. Its couch is formed in 
the bank of a stream, and the access to it is under 
water : there is a vent-hole for air at some distance 
on the top of the bank ; here it deposits its young, 
four or five in number. It weighs from eighteen to 
twenty pounds, though some have been killed weigh- 
ing thirty pounds. The North Teign is at present the 
favourite resort of the otter, simply because it abounds 
in fish, which are not hindered from coming up from 
the sea by weirs, as is the case in most other of our 

his Grace to get rid of them, on account of the injury they did to the 
crops. The Duke sent down his stag-hounds from Woburn, the finest 
chases took place, and the deer were extirpated. So glutted was the 
town with venison at the time, that only the haunches were saved, and 
the rest given to the dogs. 

296 GAME. [let. 

" The polecat, foumart, or fitch, is found everywhere 
hereabouts, but particularly in the neighbourhood of 
the large marshes, or, as they are very properly called, 
'mires/ of Dartmoor: where, besides rabbits, rats, and 
birds, it preys on frogs and lizards ; and even the re- 
mains of fish have been found in its lair. This was 
first noticed by Bewick, and it was confirmed by 
an old gamekeeper on the Moor, who thought this 
curious circumstance was first remarked by himself. 
All the animals of this tribe, from the stoat to the 
weasel, are fond of the neighbourhood of water ; the 
sable is known to be amphibious, and a variety of 
this species, an inhabitant of North America, men- 
tioned by Pennant, has obtained the name of 'the 

" Since the preservation of game has been attended 
to in this neighbourhood, the martin cat and others 
of its kin have become scarce. This weasel is of a 
dark brown colour, and the throat and belly are 
white, which distinguishes it from the pine weasel, 
whose breast is yellow. The latter animal, though 
rare in this" kingdom, was not uncommon a few years 
ago in the plantations of Mr. Carpenter, in the parish 
of Milton Abbot. 

" The stoat, vair, or vairy, is the commonest of the 
weasel tribe. The most remarkable circumstance 
concerning it is its winter change of garb from 
brown to white, when it is called the ermine. This 
change is not universal in our latitude, as brown 
stoats are found in the winter, and others with 
various degrees of white. The change commences 
at the lower part of the sides ; and the last part 
which turns white is the forehead. It is singular 
enough that the males are most subject to this 

xviii.] FOXES. 297 

change, a female white stoat, or ermine, being con- 
sidered a rarity by the warreners. 

"There is a pretty variety of the squirrel found 
hereabouts, which differs from the common sort in 
having the tail or brush and the pencils of the ears 
of a yellowish white. I hear they are common about 
Kingston Hall, in Dorsetshire. 

"Of the fox there are two sorts natives of this 
country — the greyhound fox and the cur fox. The 
greyhound fox is found on Dartmoor, where it is 
known by the name of the wolf fox, and has some- 
times been met with of an extraordinary size. One 
killed there a few years since, when stretched out 
measured five feet from the middle claw of the fore 
foot to the tip of the middle hind claw. A friend of 
mine in this neighbourhood had a tame vixen fox 
of the cur sort chained up about a hundred yards 
from his house. During the first spring of her con- 
finement she was visited by a dog-fox, and in due 
season brought forth six cubs. The male appeared 
fully sensible of the captivity of his mate, and with 
very substantial gallantry supplied her with abun- 
dance of food, as the items of her larder for one 
night will show. 

One full-grown hare ; 
Eight young rabbits ; 
Six moles. 

What a supper! He seems never to have meddled 
with feathered game, though the neighbouring covers 
abounded in pheasants. The same thing was repeated 
in the following spring. 

"The badger is common, and used here for the 
cruel sport of baiting. Its skin is exceedingly thick 
and tough. I once dissected a badger which had 

298 BADGERS. [let. 

been baited for three days, during which it killed 
several dogs, and was at last itself killed by a large 
mastiff; yet I could not detect a single perforation 
of the skin, though there was a great deal of extra- 
vasated blood, pointing out the parts which had 
suffered most from dogs. Its stomach contained 
only moles' fur. The badger is the fox's pioneer — 
the latter seldom, perhaps never, digging a hole for 
himself. When pressed for a habitation, the fox 
fixes on the hole of a badger, and ejects the owner 
by a certain nameless process, most offensive to the 
delicate senses and cleanly habits of the badger. 
A keen sportsman of this neighbourhood has made 
an ingenious use of the instincts of these two animals 
in order to stock his preserves with foxes. He tethers 
a badger to a suitable spot in his plantations, where it 
soon digs a convenient domicile, the badger is then 
removed, and a young fox put in full possession of 
the kennel. 

" We have two kind of rats, the water-rat and the 
brown Norway rat. It was remarked more than two 
hundred years ago by an historian of the adjoining 
county 7 that, 'of all manner of vermine, Cornish 
houses are most pestered with rats ; a brood very- 
hurtful for devouring of meat, clothes, and writings 
by day ; and alike cumbersome through their crying 
and rattling while they daunce their gallop gallyards 
in the roofe at night/ This was said of the black rat, 
which has been exterminated by the brown or Nor- 
way rat, of which we may truly say that it comes not 
a whit behind its predecessor either in daily rapine, 
or in the provoking cumbersomeness of its gallyarding 
by night. 

7 Carew, Survey of Cornwall, 

xviii.] MICE AND BATS. 299 

" We have mice — the dormouse, the house mouse, 
the shrew, called here the screw, the field-mouse, and 
the short-tailed field-mouse. 

" I have noticed three species of bats ; the short- 
eared bat, which is greyish dun ; the long-eared bat ; 
and a small bat with black nose and legs, and the fur 
of a reddish cast. 

" The hedgehog is common. It is the same calum- 
niated and ill-used animal here as in other places. 
And thus much for the quadrupeds of this district. 
The birds are more in number, and of greater variety 
and rarity. They will form the subject of my next 

So concludes Mr. Johnes ; and as I have a short 
notice to add, from Mr. Bray's Journal of this year, 
respecting a few vestiges not hitherto mentioned on 
the Moor, I propose to send them with the copy 
of the bird letter, above promised, at some future 


The Birds of Dartmoor. 

I have great pleasure in now being able to convey- 
to you. the following interesting letter, which I have 
just received from the Rev. T. Johnes, on the birds 
of this district. 

" The Tors of Dartmoor, lofty though they be and 
desolate, are yet too accessible to afford shelter to the 
eagle or its eyrie. Dr. E. Moore, of Plymouth, indeed, 
mentions a pair which built some years since on 
Dewerstone Rock, near Bickleigh Vale, but he speaks 
from report only. The osprey, or bald-buzzard, is 
the only bird of this tribe known in Devonshire, 
where it is supposed by good ornithologists to be 
more frequently met with than in any other part of 
England. The common buzzard frequents the sea- 
coast in great numbers, where it breeds in the cliffs. 
The honey-buzzard occurs but rarely ; it has, however, 
been noticed on Dartmoor. The moor-buzzard is 
not uncommon. About August they are frequently 
found hawking about the cultivated lands, and near 
farm-houses. It is affirmed that kites were common 
in this district forty or fifty years ago. At present 
they are so rare that I have never seen one alive; 
and but one, a very beautiful specimen, in the collep- 

let. xix.] BIRDS OF DARTMOOR. 301 

tion of the late W. Baron, Esq., at Tregear. 1 I was 
told that they were frequently found in that neigh- 
bourhood. The goshawk is admitted into the fauna 
of Devon on the authority of Dr. Tucker, of Ash- 
burton, who says it has been found on Dartmoor. 
The sparrow-hawk is one of the few hawks which do 
not migrate, but stay here all the year. I have not 
noticed the hen-harrier, or the ring-tail (its female) in 
the winter months. The country people call it the 
' furze-kite/ 

"The kestrel, called here the 'wind-fanner' and 
'windhover,' from its motion when hovering over the 
same spot in search of its quarry, comes in great 
numbers in the spring to breed in the lofty rocks of 
Morwell and Carthamartha. In the latter place more 
than fifty have been shot during one summer. Some 
few remain all the year. I have dissected many, and 
have never found any thing in the stomach but a 
small green lizard, which I have not been able to 
find alive. The hobby, called in falconry ' the lady's 
hawk,' comes here in the spring, and builds in our 
woods on the tops of high trees, but is not common. 
This bird is a great destroyer of the lark, as noticed 
by Willoughby. In the stomachs of two I found 

1 Mr. Bray, however, tells me that about thirty years ago a kite, 
having one of its wings clipped, was kept for several years in his 
father's garden. It was fond of placing itself on the steps of the 
portico of the house, and not unfrequently, by pecking at their feet, 
alarmed such strangers as would enter it. The feathers of its wing 
having through neglect been suffered to grow, the bird was accustomed 
to mount the walls of the garden, and thence to dart at those who 
were in it : for some time no greater injury had been effected, but at 
last, when Mr. Bray himself entered the garden, having perhaps 
become more daring from impunity, it took a lower flight, and would 
probably have struck him in the face had he not prevented it by 
knocking it down with his stick. 


nothing but the remains of that bird. Hence it was 
called by Johnson accipiter alaudarius. The merlin 
is sometimes seen here in October, but rarely. It 
probably escapes our notice by its small size and 
quickness of motion. 

" Of owls we have four sorts, one of which is mi- 
gratory, namely, the short-eared owl ; though I have 
found the long-eared owl only in the autumn and 
winter, and in the neighbourhood of moors. But 
Col. Montagu says they have been killed in summer. 
Of the short-eared owl I possess two specimens, a 
male and a female. The male is smaller than the 
female. They are found, I believe invariably, on the 
ground in long grass, and young fir plantations. I 
believe they migrate to England only occasionally, 
and then in considerable numbers. I have neither seen 
nor heard of one for several years. It is called also 
the woodcock-owl, from the time of its appearance. 
The brown owl is found in woods, and especially 
among rocks covered with ivy. It is common. The 
beautiful white owl, or barn owl, is common, and a 
useful friend to the farmer, by whom they are usually 
protected. They fly in the day-time, and in the 
breeding season the quantity of mice they destroy is 
prodigious. They prey three hours in the morning, 
and three in the evening, during which time each bird 
brings to its young, at the very lowest calculation, 
twenty-four mice, making the sum of three hundred 
and thirty-six in the course of one week, besides what 
it destroys for its own food. This bird, as well as the 
brown owl, hoots. This fact is clearly ascertained. 

"The ash-coloured shrike is so very seldom seen 
in England, that it scarcely deserves to be called a 
British bird, but the red-backed shrike is common 


enough in the summer. It builds in hedges, fre- 
quently near a public road, and leaves us in autumn. 

"Ravens, crows, daws, jays, magpies, and rooks, 
are abundant in their several localities. The latter, 
though doubtless a useful bird to the farmer in general, 
yet in dry springs is quite a nuisance. Last year 
they almost destroyed the potato crops in the neigh- 
bourhood of a large rookery, by digging up the seed, 
which the looseness of the earth permitted them to 
do with ease. The Royston crow is found on the 
sea-coast in the winter. 

" Starlings come here in September, and are found 
in company with the rooks in the beginning of the 
season. In December and January they are in vast 
numbers about the grass fields, but leave us in the 
latter end of January or the beginning of February. 
They do not breed hereabouts. 

" The ring-ouzel visits Dartmoor in April, where it 
breeds, and departs in the beginning of November. 
The cock is a very restless and wary bird. His 
spring call, which consists of two notes repeated four 
times with a short pause, is incessant ; while the hen 
is sitting he sings mornings and evenings delightfully, 
and is then very daring. The nest is frequently 
found in the side of a 'turf tye,' that is, a pit from 
which they dig turf for fuel. 

" The missel-thrush is common, and in August they 
are seen in flocks of from twenty to thirty in the 
fields where the * beat ' (that is, the slight layer of turf 
which is spaded off the land) is burnt, preparatory to 
ploughing for wheat. It is singular that so shy a 
bird should build its nest in such open and frequented 
places. April 13, 1830, I found the nest of a missel- 
thrush in the fork of a young apple-tree, about two 


feet from the ground, in an exposed situation near 
the road leading to the house. It was composed on 
the outside of the stems of couch and other grasses, 
a mixture of clay, a little moss of the apple-tree, and 
lined with hay. It then contained one egg. The 
bird continued to lay every day regularly between 
nine and ten in the morning until Friday, April 18, 
and immediately began to sit. On that day and the 
following it was restless, and easily frightened from 
the nest, but afterwards sat very close until that day 
fortnight, May 2, when four young birds were pro- 
duced. I could not discover what became of the 
other two eggs, though I searched the nest and the 
ground round the tree very closely. On the 9th of 
May they opened their eyes. The rapidity of their 
growth was amazing; the four quite filled the nest. 
Their feathers also grew so fast that they were com- 
pletely flushed on Sunday, May 11, a small space 
under the pinions excepted. On the following day 
they left the nest. Thus the number of days occupied 
from the commencement of laying to the perfecting 
the young amounted to only thirty. I once saw a 
song-thrush which had been taken from the nest and 
kept in a cage for sixteen years ; it then died. It 
was very grey about the head and back, and ap- 
parently died of old age. 

" The wryneck is a rare bird here, but is found in 
sequestered spots near the Cornish moors, where there 
are large timber trees : this bird and the nuthatch 
are similar in their habits, but the latter does not 

" I have been able to detect but two species of the 
woodpecker : the green, and the greater spotted ; the 
first is common, but the other very rare. 


" The hoopoe is sometimes met with in the autumn, 
but may be considered as a very rare wanderer : yet 
I have heard a gentleman of great respectability, and 
very observing, say that he many years ago saw the 
nest of this bird with four young ones, which was 
taken in the wood close to the house at Morwell, in 
the parish of Tavistock. 

" The crossbill I believe to be very rare ; for though 
we have many orchards, I have never heard of one 
in this neighbourhood ; and yet in the eastern part 
of Cornwall, about Egloskerry, where orchards are 
scarce, it- has been occasionally found in old fir 
plantations. The grosbeak is also rare : I have seen 
but one specimen, killed in November, 1828. 

u The cirl-bunting is found, but always near the 
sea-coast ; there it remains all the year, and changes 
its plumage in the autumn, so as to become more 
like the yellow-hammer. Some, however, come over 
from the Continent in the spring, as they are then 
found in greater numbers than in the winter. 

" Linnets, buntings, and bullfinches are common, 
except the reed-sparrow, which is found on the reedy 
banks of the Tamar, below Morwell Rocks. The 
mountain -finch has been taken here, but only in 
severe winters. The rest of the tribe are common, 
except the siskin. 

" The pied wagtail remains here during the winter. 
I have seen the grey wagtail on the Tamar in June ; 
no doubt it breeds there. The redstart is uncommon ; 
but there are certain spots where a pair is found 
every year. Some specimens are almost black on the 
back : the country folks call them ' fire-tails.' 

" Sand-martins build on the Tamar in great num- 
bers; I have seen them on the river Cary, in the early 

vol. 1. X 


part of March. The latest swallow I have observed 
was on the first of December ; it was apparently a 
young one, but very vigorous. 

" The night-jar is not uncommon here ; but I have 
nothing to record concerning it, except that I have 
never been able to find its nest. 

"Ring-doves are very common. The turtle-dove 
is seen but rarely in the autumn, solitary. I have 
occasionally seen flocks of a middle-sized dark blue 
pigeon, amounting to. many hundreds, flying about 
the valley of the Tamar, in the latter end of autumn, 
the weather mild, but have never been able to procure 
one of them. They appear to be always on the wing 
in the day-time, flying very high in the air. . 

"Domestic poultry of every sort are most abundant, 
and very cheap ; I have seen a goose, weighing nine 
pounds, sold in Launceston market for half-a-crown. 
Cart-loads are taken every week from Launceston to 
Devonport and Plymouth by the regraters. 

"The pheasant has been introduced of late years 
by the Duke of Bedford, and Sir W. P. Call. The 
ring-necked variety is the most common. We have 
some partridges, and the quail is sometimes met with 
in the summer. 

"Of the black grouse, some few still remain on 
Dartmoor, where they breed in the 'turf tyes.' All 
attempts to preserve this beautiful bird are unsuc- 
cessful. The great extent of the Moor, while it is 
the sole protection of a few individuals, renders it 
impossible to defend them from the depredations of 
the miners and turf-cutters who frequent the Moor. 

" Of the great Norfolk plover (edienemus) a specimen 
was killed on Dartmoor, October 5, 1831, by F. Scoble 
Willesford, Esq. : it weighed seventeen ounces. This 


bird was a female. In the stomach we found the 
elytra and legs of a small black beetle. It is seldom 
met with so far west, and was not known to the moor 
men. By the description given us, another had been 
shot a few days before at Widdecombe-in-the-Moor, 
probably the male of this. 

lt The lapwing and golden plover are common 
enough in the cultivated lands during the severity 
of winter: the former breeds in great numbers on 
all our moors ; and the natives assured me that the 
golden plover bred in Fox Tor Mire, which is a vast 
and dismal swamp on Dartmoor. 

"Ring dotterels are found in large flocks, in com- 
pany with stints, &c, on the sea-coast, and in the 
estuary of the Tamar. The sandpiper retires in pairs 
to the interior, in the latter end of April, and is found 
on all the rivers of this country during the breeding 

" The oyster-catcher is rather a scarce bird ; but a 
few pairs are found, especially on the north coast, in 
the summer and autumn. 

" The water-crake I have never seen ; but the 
water-rail is very common, as is also the water-ouzel, 
which is found on all our rocky streams. Dr. Turner, 
as quoted by Ray, says that the rail he never saw 
nor heard of but in Northumberland. Hereabout it 
is not uncommon, and in the neighbourhood of Ivy- 
bridge three couple have been shot in one day by a 
single sportsman. 

"The kingfisher is found in greatest- numbers near 
the sea ; they are rather uncommon far inland. 

" I once saw a specimen of the spoonbill, which 
was taken in one of the creeks which communicates 
with Hakeavre. 


"The bittern is very rare, and only met with in 
severe winters, such as that of 1831-32, when a great 
number were killed in this district. The curlew breeds 
on all our moors, and is found on our coast during 
the winter months. The whimbrel is not so common. 

" I know but one heronry in this immediate neigh- 
bourhood, which is at Warleigh, the seat of the Rev. 
W. Radcliffe. In January, 1832, a waggoner passing 
over Whitchurch Down saw a large bird rise from the 
roadside close to him ; he struck it down with his 
whip, and it was presented to me by C. Willesford, 
Esq., of Tavistock. The bird was evidently exhausted 
by fatigue and hunger. The following is its descrip- 
tion : — Length two feet nine inches, breadth three 
feet six inches ; bill six and a half inches, leg five and 
a half; middle toe, which is pectinated, five and a 
half; tail-feathers twelve; fore part of the head 
black ; hind part of ditto rufous, the feathers forming 
a small crest. Back part of the neck rusty ash colour, 
front part of ditto white streaked with black, the 
streaks growing larger as they descend to the breast, 
where they are long and loose ; these spots are formed 
by the feathers of the fore part of the neck having 
their inner webs black, the outer webs being white. 
The back is brown, each feather being edged with 
rust colour, as are also the greater and less wing- 
coverts. Quill feathers black, fading into rust colour 
on the inner web. Two inside toes webbed to the 
first joint. I find no description of heron with which 
this agrees so well as the purple heron (Ardea ptirpurea, 
Lin.) of which Montagu says, * that not more than two 
of this species have been met with in this country.' 
It may, therefore, be considered as one of our rarest 


"A woodcock, weighing only seven ounces, was 
shot at Trebartha, in the year 1833: it was in very 
perfect plumage, and excellent condition. The com- 
mon snipe and the dunlin breed on Dartmoor, but 
the jack snipe leaves us in the spring. 

" Of what are usually called fen birds we have but 
few, and they are only met with occasionally, driven 
most probably out of their course, during their migra- 
tion, by adverse winds. The water-hen is common 
on the Tamar ; but the coot seldom visits us. 

"The grey phalarope. This bird is very rare in 
the North of England, according to Bewick. Scarcely 
an autumn passes but I have a specimen or two sent 
me. Mr. Jackson, of East Looe, informs me that 
on October 27-28, 1831, heavy gale S.S.W., great 
numbers of the grey phalarope appeared on the coast, 
in flocks of about fifty each. They invariably alighted 
on the sea and swam with ease and elegance among 
the breakers, and darted to and fro after maggots 
and chrysalides. They were by no means shy, but 
appeared lean and fatigued. 

" Baron-bills (called in Cornwall murres), guillemots, 
and puffins, or naths, abound on the north coast of 
Cornwall, about Boscastle and in the parish of St. 
Gennys. I saw a specimen of the great northern diver 
alive, in full plumage, at Plymouth, in the month of 
July, about twelve years ago. It was taken at sea 
by some fishermen, who were carrying it about as 
a curiosity. I do not recollect on what they fed it 

"The great imber is often seen on the coast in 
Whitsand Bay in the summer, and very high up the 
Tamar in winter. Terns are often found on the sea- 
coast, and they have been killed on the Tamar. 

" Of gulls, the great gull is rare. Out of the stomach 


of one, answering to the description of the wagel, 
which Linnaeus and Pennant treated as a distinct 
species, I took an entire redwing ; an evidence of its 
indiscriminate voracity. 

" Larus canus, the common gull. We have a curious 
emigration of these birds in the spring ; they leave 
the sea-coast and appear in the grass lands in flocks 
of five, ten, or fifteen, in search of the caterpillars of 
beetles, which at that time are produced under the 
surface. The time of their appearance varies from 
February till March, and they disappear the beginning 
of May. It is to us the first harbinger of spring. It 
is called in some parts hereabouts the barley bird, 
from the time of its appearance at barley sowing, I 
suppose, as I never observed them alight anywhere 
but in the pastures. 

"The goosander. This is so rare a bird, that 
Montagu, during the long period which he devoted 
to the study of ornithology in this county, ' never had 
the good fortune to dissect a single specimen/ Feb. 5, 
1830, I dissected a male goosander, shot on the 
Tamar. I have the trachea in my possession ; it 
corresponds with the description given by Willoughby. 
And on the 9th I dissected another, which resembled 
the former in every respect. At the same time I 
dissected a dundiver : it was a female : there, was 
nothing remarkable in the trachea, excepting perhaps 
that it was a little wider and flatter at the upper part 
than at the divarication of the bronchia. These two 
last were killed at one shot by Mr. Walter Weeks, of 
Bradstone, out of a flock of seven goosanders and 
dundivers. The dundiver is found here, a single 
specimen or so, every winter. 

There is still much obscurity concerning the history 


Trachea of the Goosander. Trachea of the Dundivt 

Length, i foot l\ inches. 

312 BIRDS OF DARTMOOR. [let. xix. 

of these birds ; some contending that the dundiver 
is the female of the goosander, others that they are 
of distinct species. In the year 1832 I dissected a 
bird in the plumage of the dundiver. The trachea 
(of which I have given a drawing) is so very different 
from that of the goosander, that I cannot believe this 
bird to be a young goosander in its immature plumage. 
Still, however, we want the female of the goosander. 
I am inclined to think, from the number of specimens 
I have examined, that there are two sorts of birds with 
the plumage of the dundiver, one very much larger than 
the other, and of which I possess a specimen : this may 
be the female of the goosander. The male of the 
smaller species may continue in the same plumage 
of the female without changing when at maturity. 

" Of the smew or white nun, and the red-headed 
smew or weasel-headed coot, I have seen specimens 
shot on the Tamar far inland. 

"In January, 1830, many wild swans were killed 
in this district. In this severe season the common 
wild goose was seen only at the beginning of winter. 
When the frost set in severely, this bird, together 
with the widgeon and others of the duck tribe, which 
usually remain with us during the winter, retired 
most probably further to the south, and were suc- 
ceeded by the wild swan, the white-fronted or laughing 
goose, the scaup, goosander, and the dundiver, birds 
seldom seen in this latitude. 

"The cormorant is not rare, but not so common as 
the shag, which is numerous on the north as well as 
the south coast. The gannet is sometimes taken by 
the fishermen during the summer. Ray calls it a 
Cornish bird." 

So concludes Mr. Johnes's account of our birds. 



Mr. Bray's Letter to his Wife — Inscribed Obelisk erected in the 
Vicarage Garden — The Biography of an old Stone — Account of the 
Inscribed Stone — Probably a Memorial of a Romanized Briton — 
The Inscription given — Roman and British Names — The Stone bears 
reference to the period when the Celtic language pervaded the 
whole Island — Its original Station — A similar Stone near Roborough 
Down — Inscription upon it — Allusion to the Dobuni — Henry and 
Camden quoted — The inscription on the Stone of British origin — 
Probable date of the erection — A third and similar Stone mentioned 
— Its high Antiquity — Its Inscription, &c. — Removal of these Relics 
to the Vicarage Garden — Other curious Inscribed Stones also pre- 
served in Betsey Grimbal's Tower — Some account of one of these 
Antiquities — Possibly a Memorial of Alfred the Great — Various 
readings of the Inscription — Excursion to Over Tor Rock Basins — 
The Walkham — Peat Carts — Bair-down; opening a Kistvaen — 
Human Bones found on the Moor — Obelisk near Bair-down. 

THE following letter, on a subject that I think you 
will find of considerable interest, was addressed by 
Mr. Bray to myself; and as I deem it better to send 
it to you entire, instead of making any extracts from 
it, I now therefore enclose it in this packet. 


" Vicarage, Tavist ock, March 10, 1834. 

"My dearest Eliza, — I fear that you almost sus- 
pected I should never fulfil my promise of giving you 
some account of the inscribed stones connected with 
this neighbourhood ; and I fear yet more that the 

3H MR. BRAY'S LETTER. [let. 

account will rather suffer than improve by the delay. 
But such as it is I now present you with it, and leave 
you to present it to whom you may. 

"Of the lettered obelisk I have lately erected in 
our garden, I have often heard you say, ( I wish it 
would speak, and tell me all the things it has either 
seen or heard, that I might note them down. ' My 
reply has been, that were it to open its mouth it would 
but frighten you, and not only make you more nervous 
than you frequently are in your speech, but also in 
your writing. It certainly has been the silent witness 
of many pleasant conversations I have shared with 
you whilst walking in the garden ; and thus much am 
I disposed to personify both it and its companions as 
to give some account (as far as I know) of their history, 
I had almost said of their biography. 

" I will begin then with the stone last mentioned. 
And first, as I have transplanted it into my garden, 
and from no small distance, lest it should be thought 
indigenous to the soil, I will notice what I think I 
have heard botanists call its habitat, or place of its 
natural and possibly native abode ; for as soon could 
I believe that Deucalion converted stones into men 
by throwing them behind him, as that any one pre- 
vious to myself had incurred either the trouble or 
expense to convey such a cargo of stone-crop into 
his garden, without too the least prospect of being 

" Having learnt from Polwhele's History of Corn- 
wall (for I had not then seen his History of Devon) 
that an inscribed stone existed at Buckland Mona- 
chorum, distant from Tavistock about four miles, I 
went thither on the 28th of September, 1804, with 
no other clue to its discovery than that it was ( close 


to the churchyard.' On my arrival at the' village 
I inquired for the sexton, thinking that he was the 
most likely person to give me information. He 
could hardly, however, be convinced that the object 
of my search could be other than the monument 
then but lately erected in the church to the memory 
of the brave defender of Gibraltar, General Lord 
Heathfield ; considered by some one of Bacon's best 
productions. And on my correcting him in this par- 
ticular, he still perversely conjectured, from my asking 
about an inscription, that I sought from him a de- 
scription of the church. But on using more familiar 
language, and describing it as a stone post with letters 
upon it, he smiled, and said, 'I suppose, Sir, that must 
be it behind your back.' " I turned round, and perceived 
the subject of my inquiry within a few paces from me. 
It served as a coigne to a blacksmith's shop, adjoining 
the entrance to the churchyard. 

" In the course of the year 1831, (for I have mislaid 
my memorandum of it) on again visiting Buckland, 
I found that the blacksmith's shop had recently been 
taken down, and that the stone in question was lying 
with its inscription exposed towards the street, with 
the possibility of its being worn, if not obliterated, 
by every passing wheel. On applying to Sir Ralph 
Lopes, as lord of the-' manor, (intimating that I had 
already in my possession a stone of probably the same 
era) he most kindly made me a present of it. I sent 
therefore a waggon with three horses, together with 
what is here called a jack, an engine for lifting it. 
But I nearly ran the risk of sending them in vain ; 
for the tenants then assembled at the Court Baron 
refused to let my servant touch it till, fortunately, 
the lord himself arrived, and removed the embargo. 


It was brought by a circuitous route of more than 
five miles to avoid some precipitous hills, and erected, 
as before noticed, in my garden. 

" It is a rude and rough pillar of granite, but cer- 
tainly more picturesque than were it a more regular 
column. Besides, it is not only the more interesting 
from its resemblance to the consecrated stones or 
idols of our pagan ancestors, but also from its resem- 
blance, by rising in a gently-sweeping line from the 
ground, and somewhat tapering at the top, to the 
trunk of a stately tree. The inscription also strength- 
ens the similitude ; as it may well be compared to 
those rustic letters carved, more with feeling than 
with art, on the bark of some venerable beech. Pol- 
whele is of opinion that (as well as many others of 
the same description) it originally stood within the 
precincts of a pagan temple, where, in consequence 
of the reputed sanctity of the spot, was subsequently 
erected a Christian church. I hope, however, that I 
may not be accused of the guilt of sacrilege in re- 
moving it ; for it certainly deserves a better fate 
than to be applied to such 'base uses' as to be a 
' buttress/ or ' coigne of vantage ' to the ' castle ' of 
any modern Mulciber; nay, what is worse, than to 
be laid prostrate in the street. It might even at 
best have been appropriated to the purpose of a 
gate-post, as is actually the case with another in- 
scribed stone in the neighbourhood ; and indeed 
(of which more hereafter) this, or something of a 
similar description, seems to have been its original 
destination : for even in the midst of the inscription 
is a cavity, in the form of an oblong square, which 
possibly may have been cut for the reception of a 
latch or bar. Its obelisk form is more apparent 


when viewed laterally ; as at the back, which is of a 
smoother and blacker surface, (probably caused by 
the contact of a contiguous stratum) it is rather 
acutely gathered to a point ; seemingly however 
more by Nature than by art. 

" Polwhele, even in his Devon, presents us only with 
some few particulars as to the nature and dimensions 
of the stone, but not with the inscription. As he is 
not quite exact in the dimensions, I here give them. 
Its height, as it at present stands, is seven feet two 
and a half inches. Its breadth at the bottom is 
seventeen, at the top fourteen inches. From the top 
to the beginning of the inscription are two feet one 
and a half inch. And the cavity is eight inches long 
and two and a half deep. 

"This and other similar monuments he imagines 
to have been Romano-British, and to have been 
erected to the memory of a ' Christianized Roman/ 
I should rather consider it as the memorial of a Ro- 
manized Briton, previous perhaps to the introduction 
of Christianity into this island. There is no cross, nor 
any request to pray for the soul of the departed, which 
are so commonly found on the sepulchral monuments 
of the early, or rather Romanized, Christians. 

"The inscription may be read {Sepulchrum, sive 
the translation, I conceive, may be '(The grave, the 
gravestone, or to the memory) of Sabinus the son of 
Maccodechetius.' The Romans we know had usually 
three names — the prcenomen, the nomen, and the cog- 
nomen. The prcenomen, answering to our Christian 
or proper name, marked the individual ; the nomen 
marked the gens or clan, consisting of several families ; 
the cognomen marked the familia or immediate family. 




Thus in Publius Cornelius Scipio, Publius is the 
prcenomen, Cornelius the nomen % and Scipio the cog- 

nomen. Sometimes there was also a fourth name, 
called the agnomen y added from some illustrious action 
or remarkable event. The Britons (as indeed the 


Romans themselves) originally had but one name. 
We may suppose, therefore, that this was erected at 
a very early stage of society, before the Britons, in 
imitating them, had entered into the more refined 
distinctions of their civilized invaders. At the same 
time it is evident that even these barbarians, previous 
to any intercourse with the Romans, felt in some 
degree the pride of ancestry : for in this very inscrip- 
tion, though containing but three words, are noticed 
as many generations. Mac (as still in Scotch), signi- 
fying son, we have first Codechet, the grandsire, then 
Maccodechet, his son, and lastly Sabinus, his grandson. 
And from this too we may conclude that the period 
to which this stone has reference was when the Celtic 
language (of which the Gaelic or Erse is but a dialect, 
as also the Cornish) was not confined to Scotland, but 
pervaded the whole island. And, according to the 
opinion of antiquaries, the Celtic, at the time of the 
Roman invasion, was universally spoken all over the 
West of Europe. 

" From the cavity or mortise above alluded to, 
nearly in the centre of it, and calculated to receive a 
bar, I am inclined to think that this might be one 
of the stones of an ancient barrier ; erected not im- 
probably at a spot set apart for the celebration of 
public games. ' These, among the earliest nations, 
and even among the Greeks and Romans, were 
generally of a religious nature. And as the Celts 
are now, I believe, universally admitted to be more 
ancient than either of these nations, might not, I ask, 
the circus of the latter be taken from the Celtic 
circle, and their stadium or cursus from the Celtic 
avenue or parallelitha ? 

" We first hear of this stone, where perhaps it was 


originally placed, at Buckland Monachorum, or Monk's' 
Buckland, and close to the churchyard. Now we 
know that in the early ages of Christianity spots 
already sacred were generally chosen on which to 
erect a church, that the heathen might thus be the 
better conciliated to a change of religion. 

" Whether for the purpose of showing him greater 
honour, or because it was at hand, and on that 
account made use of, it is not unlikely that the 
Romanized Britons dedicated this stone, at his death, 
to the memory of one who was descended from those 
their Celtic ancestors, by whom it had originally been 
erected. It is evident, I think, that it could not have 
been converted to the purpose of a gate-post (as is 
another stone in that neighbourhood) subsequent to 
the inscription ; as the letters, by being lessened in 
size, have been made to accommodate themselves to 
the interruption occasioned by the cavity. Nor is it 
likely that so large and lofty a stone would originally 
have been selected for a common gate-post, whilst, on 
the other hand, its size and height would naturally 
have recommended it in constructing a grand barrier 
by which to regulate the public games. 

" There is a stone, probably of about the same era 
as the preceding, which may be found by following 
the lane leading from the Rock on Roborough Down 
to Buckland Monachorum, till you come to a turning 
on the right hand that will bring you to a field of 
which it forms the gate-post. I am thus particular in 
my directions, as in searching for it myself I rambled 
without success for miles, and that too for several 
days, having received no other information than that 
it was a stone in a hedge near Roborough Down. 

" The inscription contains three names ; but it may 




be doubted whether they all are the names of indi- 
vidual persons, or whether one may not be of a 
professional, and another of a national description. 
"Various interpretations have suggested themselves. 

Some of these I shall mention, and leave the reader 
to determine for himself. 

"The gravestone — 'Of Dobunnius Faber, the son 
of Enabarrus.' 

" ' Of Dobunnius the smith/ &c. 

VOL. I. Y 


" ' Of Faber, one of the Dobuni/ &c. 

"Faber, in later ages, was no uncommon name. 
But I am not aware of any nearer approximation to 
it among the Romans themselves than Fabricius. A 
skilful workman in any art (and more particularly in 
metal, {ox faber has more especial reference to a smith 
or worker of iron) would be of such paramount im- 
portance in barbarous ages, that his trade or occupation 
would naturally become not only an addition to, but 
in itself a proper name. And probably it is so in the 
present instance. Indeed there is still no name more 
common than Smith in our own language. And it is 
no less probable that the first name in the inscription 
is that of his people; as Dobunnius alone, without 
adding ' the smith/ would be a sufficient designation, 
particularly as he is also stated to be the son of Ena- 
barrus ; and few persons it may be supposed, unless 
they were chieftains themselves or the sons of chief- 
tains, would be honoured with any monument at all. 
Nor is it likely that, were there two names, the first 
would have been British and the second Roman, but 
vice versdy out of compliment to their masters. And 
here I must be allowed to add — as possibly throwing 
some light on the date and perhaps also connexion 
of these stones in point of time, as they certainly 
were in regard to place — that Sabinus, to whom the 
former was erected, might have been so called in com- 
pliment to a Roman officer of that name, the brother 
of Vespasian, who was afterwards emperor. These, 
with others under Aulus Plautius, commanded the 
army consisting of four complete legions, with their 
auxiliaries and cavalry, making about fifty thousand 
men, which was sent, A.D. 43, by Claudius into Britain. 1 

1 See Henry, vol. i. p. 30. 


" If, instead of being a variety in spelling, the redu- 
plication of N signifies the genitive plural, namely 
Duboniorum, the figure H might purposely be used 
for two instead of II., lest the latter should be taken 
for the genitive singular of a person. As there seems 
to be some trace of letters at the end of the first line, 
these might indicate that he was of the second cohort 
of the Dobuni. Cohort we know was often used in- 
definitely for a band or company of any number of 

" Henry (p. 32) tells us that ' a part of the Dobuni 
submitted to the Romans. These were probably the 
subjects of Cogidunus, who became so great a favourite 
of Claudius and succeeding emperors, for his early 
submission and steady adherence to their interest.' 
Also (vol. ii. p. 459 app.) : ' The second legion, 
which was surnamed Augusta, or the August, came 
into Britain A.D. 43, in the reign of Claudius, under 
the command of Vespasian (who was afterwards 
emperor) and continued here near four hundred years 
to the final departure of the Romans. It was on this 
account that this legion was also called Britannica, or 
the British/ Camden says that 'The Cassii had 
conquered the Dobuni before the arrival of Caesar, 
who made the prince of this country commander-in- 
chief of the forces of the whole island/ Also — ' The 
Dobuni inhabited Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, 
Their name seems to be derived from Duffen, a British 
word signifying deep or low, because inhabiting for 
the most part a plain, and valleys encompassed with 
hills. And I am the more induced to be of this 
opinion, because I find that Dion calls these people 
by a word of the same signification, Bodunni, if there 
is not a transposition of the letters. For Bodo> or 


Bodun, in the antient language of the Gauls, as Pliny 
informs us, doth signify Deep' 

" Whether therefore the name on this stone be that 
of an individual or of a nation, it certainly is of British 
origin. It is by no means improbable that the spot 
near which it stands (in the vicinity of Roborough 
Rock) might have been a military station for the 
Romans or their auxiliaries and allies, as from its 
elevation it commands an extensive horizon, including 
the beacons of Brent Tor and other tors on Dartmoor, 
and is also within a few miles of Tamerton, probably 
the ancient Tamare. 

"The reader may possibly lament that he has 
wasted a few minutes in reading these observations ; 
but let him know for his comfort that I have wasted 
many hours, not only in attempting to interpret, but 
even to decipher the inscription. In order to get 
what I believe is technically called 'a rubbing/ I 
have gone over and over again to the spot where the 
stone is situated, amply provided with silver paper, 
(it ought I am told to have been tea-paper) black- 
lead, and brushes of various kinds. But sometimes 
owing to the wind, and sometimes to the rain, I was 
never able to take any thing like an impression, and 
was forced, therefore, to content myself with different 
sketches in pencil, of which I have tried to select 
the best. 

" With a hope of succeeding better at my leisure, 
and perhaps also with the assistance of the sun, 
when at a certain point in its course it would illumine 
only the surface, and throw the letters into shade, 
(as the inscription on Pompey's Pillar, in Egypt, 
which had so puzzled the French sgavans, was at last 
thus deciphered by some officers of our army) I set 


on foot a negociation for its transfer to my garden, as 
a companion to my two other stones. But though 
antiquarian covetousness was seconded by beauty, in 
the person of one of the daughters of Sir Anthony 
Buller, who resides near the spot, the farmer was in- 
exorable, and it there remains as a gate-post to his 

" I must be allowed to state that on the reverse of 
the inscription may be seen G. C. It will add but 
little to the presumption of my former conjectures if 
I venture to suggest whether this may not stand for 
Galba Caesare. Servius Sulpicius, the seventh of the 
twelve Caesars, was surnamed Galba, from the small- 
ness of his stature. The word signifies 'a mite or 
maggot ; ' but according to some it implies, in the 
language of Gaul, 'fatness/ for which the founder of 
the Sulpitian family was remarkable. Galba was 
next succeeding emperor but one to Claudius, who 
will be found mentioned in the following extract 
from Henry (vol. i. p. 260): 'Cogidunus, who was at 
that time, as his name imports, prince of the Dobuni, 
recommended himself so effectually to the favour of 
the Emperor Claudius, by his ready submission, and 
other means, that he was not only continued in the 
government of his own territories, but had some 
other states put under his authority. This prince 
lived so long, and remained so steady a friend and 
ally to the Romans, that his subjects, being habituated 
to their obedience in his time, never revolted, nor 
stood in need of many forts or forces to keep them 
in subjection/ Perhaps the reader will good-naturedly 
admit, and be thankful for, the following lines of 
Shakspere by way of apology for this whimsical 
digression : — 


a i 

Figures pedantical, these summer flies 
Have blown me full of maggot ostentation : 
I do forswear them.' 

"My mind being not a little occupied with the 
inscription I had seen at Buckland, (not then even 
surmising that there was another near it, namely, 
the one last noticed) I asked my father, who was borri 
and lived at Tavistock, if he had ever heard of any 
inscribed stone in our immediate neighbourhood. He 
said that about twenty years ago, presentment was 
made at the Court Leet of the Duke of Bedford, of 
a large stone forming part of the pavement of West 
Street, as a nuisance ; it having become so worn and 
slippery as to be dangerous to horses. As his Grace's 
agent, therefore, he had ordered it to be taken up, 
when, if his memory failed not, he thought he had 
seen letters on the under part of it. The stone, he 
added, had afterwards been placed as a bridge over 
the mill-leat near Head-weir. This weir is about 
half a mile distant from Tavistock, and crosses the 
river Tavy for the purpose of conveying a stream of 
water, here called a leat, to the parish mills. 

" On visiting the spot I found the stone. Its 
smooth surface was still uppermost, and the bottom 
of it so close to the stream, that I could only get my 
hand under it, and on doing so, fancied that I felt 
letters. On the strength of this I caused it to be 
taken up, and found I had conjectured rightly. 
The letters, fortunately, had been twice preserved ; 
first from the friction of wheels and the tread of 
horses and passengers in the street ; and secondly, 
from the slower but scarcely less certain erosion of 
the passing waters. I resolved therefore to bring 
it to a place of greater safety ; and on October 22, 


1804, about a month after I first visited the stone at 
Buckland, had it removed and placed by the side of 
the arch, then within the grounds of the Abbey house, 
and now within the precincts of the churchyard. This 
I the more particularly notice, as an engraving of it 
in this situation, has, I believe, appeared in a little 
topographical work called the Antiquarian Cabinet. 

" On my quitting the Abbey house for the Vicarage, 
I brought it hither and placed it where now it stands, 
near the drawing-room window. Some of my friends, 
perhaps thinking it out of place, compared it to a sen- 
tinel. In some degree to obviate this, and to hide a 


defect not much in character with a soldier, namely 
what might be called a hunch back, (for the wheels, 
I suppose, had worn it into this shape) I planted at 
its foot some Irish ivy. This has so wonderfully in- 
creased, particularly at the top, that on cutting part 
of it away in front to render the inscription legible, 
it has assumed, curiously enough, the form of a sentry 
box. I felt loth, I confess, to cut away more of the 
ivy than was absolutely necessary for this purpose, 
from the circumstance that for many years a couple 
of blackbirds have built their nest there or frequented 
it ; which is the more remarkable from their general 
shyness, and, seemingly at least, their aversion to the 
haunts of men. 

" The inscription, as the first already noticed, con- 
tains the names of father and son ; viz., ' Nepranus, 
the son of Condevus/ Some, perhaps, may be in- 
clined to read Con^evus, as the fourth letter is more 
like our small b than D. The rudeness of the 
sculpture, however, may account for this. And 
indeed Mr. Samuel Lysons, in his History of Devon- 
shire, has not hesitated in a wood-cut to represent it 
completely formed as the latter. I am not much 
surprised at this inaccuracy, from the hasty sketch 
he made, in my presence, when I first directed his 
attention to the stone in question several years ago ; 
and only mention it now that the reading proposed 
may be supported by the opinion of so great an 
antiquary. With respect to Conde, in Latin Con- 
date, (and to which perhaps we may trace Condevus) 
there are several towns of this name in France. It is 
an appellation in antient geography, probably of Celtic 
origin, bearing relation to the idea of confluent, and 
means a place built on the spot where two rivers meet. 


There was a Roman station, also, of the name of Con- 
date, in this island, as appears from the second iter. 
of Antoninus. 2 The person here commemorated, 
therefore, may have taken his name from one of 
these towns, as does one of the branches of the 
Bourbon family in France. At any rate the name 
is of British or Celtic origin. 

" Of the stones which I now propose to notice, my 
earliest remembrance is that when I was a boy they 
were lying in a little plot of garden-ground over the 
gateway of the Abbey, commonly known by the name 
of Betsy Grimbars Tower. I thence, several years 
ago, removed and placed them as on a kind of shrine 
in front of the arch before mentioned. 

" On exchanging my residence for the Vicarage, I 
restored them pretty nearly to their former situation, 
by placing them beneath instead of on the top of the 
gateway. They were there more accessible, and as 
I imagined equally safe. In this respect, however, 
I was unfortunately mistaken : for, two or three 
years since, on going to show them to a friend, the 
stone marked No. 2 was nowhere to be found. I was 
the more provoked at the loss, as I am not without 
suspicion that I myself, though altogether unintention- 
ally, was in some degree accessory to the theft : for 
only a few weeks before, having but just mounted my 
horse, it shied at the noise or motion of a mason who 
was working near the gate, and I sent back my ser- 
vant to tell him that it was a very improper place for 
him thus to be cutting a stone, and begged he would 
remove it. I have reason to think that it was the very 
stone in question, and that he had no. other view in 
purloining it than to convert it into a pig's trough. 

8 Rees's Cyclopcedia, and Henry's History, 




" The other stone I have placed, for shelter as well 
as security, beneath the trellised shed before the door 
of my house. I am not without suspicion,, how- 
ever, that not only masons but antiquaries have 
little fear either of lares or penates ; though at the 
feet of the former there should be the figure of a dog 
barking, (with the words cave canem) and though the 
latter be placed in the inmost and most secret parts 
of the house. Indeed it may be apprehended that 
too many might be tempted to steal even the house- 
hold gods themselves. 

" Whether these stones were but parts of one and 
the same, it is difficult to determine. If they were, 
it is probable that there existed an intermediate 
portion. Certain it is that they were of the same 

description of freestone, were of the same thickness, 
and had upon them letters of precisely the same form 
and workmanship. By no greater stretch of imagina- 
tion than antiquaries are sometimes known to indulge 
in, and perhaps with not much greater credulity than 
they frequently possess, one if not both these stones 


might plausibly enough be considered as commemora- 
tive of Alfred the Great. There are parts of two 
words, one immediately below the other, the former 
ending in FRIDUS, the other in NUS. May they not, 
therefore, be ALFRIDUS M AGNUS ? The orthography, 
at least in early times, was far from being settled. 
'Anglo-Saxon writers, and among these the king 
himself, commonly write his name iElfred, and this 
orthography is frequently followed on ancient coins ; 
in some instances, however, as on a coin in the 
British Museum, the name is written Aelfred : in 
other writers, and indeed on some coins too, we find 
Elfred.' 3 Nay, it was not only written Alfredus but 
also Aluredus. 4 But this respects only the beginning 
of the word. We may naturally infer, however, that 
there was some degree of uncertainty in regard to the 
termination also. In Smith, De Republica Anglorum> 
we find our Alfred, the son of Ethelwolf, written Alfre- 
dus ; but Alfred, the son of Oswy, he spells Alfndus ; 
whilst Rapin and Hume call them both Alfred. 

"A pretty strong objection however to this hypo- 
thesis is, that Alfred died A.D. 901, and the Abbey 
was not begun till 961 ! I might say it was his 
cenotaph, or that it was removed from the place of 
his sepulture. However much disposed the monks 
might be to avail themselves of his name, either as a 
king on earth or as a saint in heaven, the expression 
situs est hie is too strong for a cenotaph, and would 
accord better with his relics, which we might easier 
believe they would pretend to have, rather than that 
they carried away his gravestone. It is, however, not 
a little remarkable, that his remains were transported 
more than once from the place of their original inter- 

8 Penny Cyclopedia. 4 Ainsworth, &c. 


ment. 'His body/ says Rapin, 'was buried first at 
Winchester, next removed into the church of the New 
Monastery ; and lastly, his body, monument, church 
and monastery were all removed (about two hundred 
years after) without the north gate of the city, since 
called the Hide! Nor indeed is it perhaps less remark- 
able that CONDITOR A, on the other stone, may mean 
conditor Anglice legum, as well as conditor Abbatice. 
' And Alfred,' says Blackstone, 5 is generally styled by 
the same historians the legam Anglicanarum conditor \ 
as Edward the Confessor is the restitutor! And 
possibly, after all, it will be considered not the least 
remarkable of these coincidences, that there were no 
less than three monks of Winchester who became 
Abbots of Tavistock ; namely, Livingus, who died in 
1038 ; Aldred, his successor, who died in 1069 ; and 
Philip Trentheful, who was confirmed as Abbot in 
1259. I s ^ altogether improbable that one of these, 
from the veneration he may naturally be supposed to 
feel for the name of Alfred, might have placed thi$ 
memorial of him in a spot to which he had been him- 
self translated, when he remembered that the removal 
of the very remains of this great monarch had taken 
place either for their greater safety or greater honour ? 
Or the mere estimation in which he was held by the 
fraternity at large, which is sufficiently proved by his 
translation of Boethius de Consolatione Philosophic^ 
being printed at their press, may account for their 
pretending to possess either his grave-stone or his 
relics, though each might be equally supposititious. 6 

5 Vol. i. p. 66. 

6 I probably was led into this error of confounding together two 
separate works, from having somewhere seen it noticed that an Anglo- 
Saxon grammar was published here ; and knowing that Alfred had 
translated Boethius into Anglo-Saxon. This translation, however, was 


" The monastery called the ' Newen Mynstre/ and 
afterwards Hyde Abbey, which was founded by 
Alfred, and completed by his son Edward, being in 
an unhealthy and inconvenient situation, ' a new and 
magnificent church and monastery were erected just 
without the north wall of the city, on the spot called 
Hyde-meadow, to which the monks removed in mo, 
carrying with them the remains of several illustrious 
personages who had been buried in the former abbey, 
among which were those of Alfred himself, and some 
of his descendants. The church and monastery were 
soon afterwards demolished, and even the tombs of 
Alfred and other eminent persons were despoiled. 
Precisely on the space occupied by the abbey church 
was some time ago erected a bridewell, or house of 
correction, on the plan of the benevolent Howard.' 
And 'between fifty and sixty years ago/ (I extract 
this from Rees's Cyclopcedia) 'among the remains of 
the buildings was found a stone with this inscription 
in Saxon characters, " Alfred Rex DCCCLXXXI." ' 

"This date is twenty years before his death. It 
might otherwise have been taken for his gravestone. 
Some mystery we find even here is connected with 
the memory of this illustrious personage. 

u With respect to the stone marked No. 2, (if it be 

not connected with the preceding) many conjectures 

present themselves ; but I shall offer only two, as 

requiring the least addition ; namely, 

indolem .... 
CONDITOR (abbatiae) 


not printed, I believe, till 1698, at Oxford. But perhaps I may be 
indulged in the conjecture that the monks possessed this work in MS., 
and might attach such value to a more recent version as to commit it to 
the press, from knowing that the original had previously been translated 
by so renowned a prince. 




which we may suppose a prayer that the founder (for 
s Thou that hearest prayer' is not, be it remembered, 
confined by Romanists to God) might continue his 
favourable disposition to the Abbey; or, if we imagine 
the sentence to refer to the person to whose memory 
the stone was inscribed, we may complete the inscrip- 
tion in some such form as the following : — 

(Oramus ut ille) 
indolem (eandem quam) 
CONDITOR (abbatiae nostras) 


' Let us pray that he may show the same disposition 
as did the founder of our Abbey. Amen. Amen.' 

" There can be no doubt, however, that the lateral 
sentence may be thus completed — (In spe resurge) 
NDI SUB JACET INTUS. And from the word intus 
we may at once conclude that the stone formed the 
cover of the stone coffin or sarcophagus. 


" Some years since, previous to placing the painted 
glass in the window of his dining-room at Endsleigh, 
the Duke of Bedford applied to me for a sketch of 
the arms of the Abbey of Tavistock ; and I ventured 
to emblazon them from the description contained in 
Prince's Worthies of Devon. 

" I find however, from a fragment of Beer-stone sent 
to me in September, 1833, by Mr. Rundle, builder, 
who met with it among other pieces of sculpture in 
taking down part of the brewery here, that there is 
a want of correctness, not only in myself, but even 
in Prince. He describes the arms as 'Gules, two 
crosiers saltireways between two martlets or, in a 
chief argent three mullets sable.' 

1 instantly recognized the mullets, but I was at 
a loss respecting the crosiers ; the martlets, also, must 
have been four instead of two. I was satisfied, how- 
ever, that it is a fragment of the arms of the Abbey, 
when I found crosiers thus described in Fosbroke's 
Encyclopedia of Antiquities: 'They were sometimes 
barely curled, sometimes like beadles' staves, — more 
like maces than crosiers.' 

"From two hands that still remain at the top and 


side, it is evident that the shield was supported by- 
two angels, one on the dexter, and the other on the 
sinister side. 

"On the 30th October, 1833, Mr. Rundle sent me 
also another stone, with an inscription in black-letter 
painted on a white fillet, being a kind of upper 
border to the same, the ground of which was ver- 
milion. The words are REGINA CELI (caeli) LETARE 

(laetare) A probably Alleluia. i Rejoice, O Queen 

of heaven — Hallelujah/ Of course they are ad- 
dressed to the Virgin Mary, and possibly were placed 
on her altar. 

"In November, 1833, Mr. Rundle also sent me 
two other stones. One seemed to be a kind of 
plinth, on which, in red characters, was painted what 
I take to be the contraction of Jesu? which is followed 
by FILI DEI MISERERE . . . O . . . probably NOSTRI. 
The other was the capital of a column or pilaster, 
having at the top gilt quatrefoils, whilst at the bottom 
are bunches of grapes painted red. Between them 
is the inscription (as far as I am able to decipher it) 

ORATE PRO DIVO E The latter word, perhaps, 

might have been Eustachio, to whom the parish 
church was dedicated ; so that it is difficult to decide 
whether these sculptured remains were taken from 
the conventual or the parochial church, possibly from 
both, when the former was pulled down, and the 
latter freed from its idolatries (for there stood in it 
the altar of St. Eustace) at the time of the Reforma- 
tion. It is probable that they were not removed for 

7 I am indebted to Mr. Kempe for the information that ifou stansp 
for Jesu: an adoption of the h for the great eta. "Jesus is written 
I.H.S. (in antient MSS.) which is the Greek IHS, or 177s, an abbrevia- 
tion of LJ<roi/s." — Casley's Catalogue of the Royal Library, pref., 
p. xxiii. 

xx.] OVER TOR. 337 

preservation, but used when wanted as mere materials 
for other buildings. 

"Thus, my dearest Eliza, have I endeavoured to 
fulfil my promise of contributing towards your work 
by giving some account of the inscribed stones, &c, 
connected with this neighbourhood, and remain, 

" Your faithful and affectionate husband, 

" E. A. Bray." 

Before I make up this packet for Keswick I shall 
add the following extracts from Mr. Bray's Journal 
respecting an 


"August 8th, 1832. — Having seen but the basins on 
Pew Tor, and from their elevation being unable to 
reach them, Mrs. Bray playfully expressed a wish to 
wash her hands in one of those that were the most 
accessible on Dartmoor. The basin called Mis Tor 
Pan being the largest, and if I recollected rightly not 
difficult of access, we got out of the carriage, near the 
Merrivale circles, with the intention of paying it a 
visit. But it was at no small distance, with a con- 
siderable ascent all the way, principally amid rocks, 
the weather was extremely warm, and my companion 
very weak from illness. We gave up, therefore, our 
original design, and resolved to content ourselves 
with exploring a neighbouring tor, which we after- 
wards learnt was called Over Tor. I was the more 
induced to do so from never having visited it before ; 
and probably for the same reason that, had it not 
been for what I have above stated, we should not 
have visited it now; namely, because it seemed but 
insignificant in itself, and because my mind was 

vol. 1.' Z 

338 OVER TOR. [let. 

occupied with a far more important undertaking, 
that of reaching Mis Tor. 

"But Over Tor, though of no great magnitude, 
most amply repaid us for the visit Probably from 
not being so elevated, and therefore less exposed to 
1 the pelting of the pitiless storm/ it is less bare and 
denuded than most others. Indeed it is almost 
covered with lichen and pendent moss : so much so, 
that it forcibly reminded me of grotto- work ; to which 
the cavities, that are here more numerous than usual, 
rfot a little contributed. Even some of the incum- 
bent strata, possibly from being thin, and little else 
than laminae, when I struck them with my umbrella 
sounded hollow. A flower, also, in the shape of a 
white pointed star, glittered amid the dark verdure 
of the moss, and might well be compared to the 
sparkling shells with which these artificial structures 
are generally decorated. That art, too, had been used 
even here is evident ; for Mrs. Bray had the pleasure 
of herself discovering a rock-basin. And as we have 
not only the classic, or at least far-fetched authority 
of 'Venus's Looking-glass/ but the nearer one of 
' Lady Lopes's Hat/ (being no other than the cover- 
ing of an old lime-kiln) I may be allowed, perhaps, 
to designate this as 'Mrs. Bray's Washhand Basin.' 
It had water in it at the time ; though not enough for 
the purpose above stated. The basin, I should think, 
is about a foot in diameter at the bottom 8 . The ex- 
terior brim stands bofclly prominent, thin, and some- 
what curved (at least on its upper surface) like the 
cup of a convolvulus. Standing, or perhaps seated 
beside it, the Druid might scatter his lustrations on 

8 I subsequently found it by admeasurement fourteen inches ; and 
one foot and a half above. 

xx.] OVER TOR. 339 

his votaries below ; whether they were the multitude 
generally at the base of the rock, or such select few 
as might be admitted nearer for initiation on a kind 
of natural platform, about five feet below, composed 
of the rock itself. 

" Mrs. Bray was fortunate also in making two other 
discoveries ; namely, a fallen rock on which were two 
basins, and a fallen tolmen. I already have alluded 
to some young men, who, on one of them coming of 
age, or rather on the expiration of his apprenticeship, 
which was probably simultaneous, celebrated this most 
important era by throwing down some rocks on Dart- 
moor. I never could learn the exact spot, but had 
reason to imagine that it was on or near Mis Tor. I 
now am satisfied that it could be no other than Over 
Tor; and except, perhaps, the overthrow of the crom- 
lech at the cursus, they did no further mischief. This 
no doubt was enough, and more than enough ; and 
well would they have deserved the same sentence, 
could it have been put in execution, that was passed 
on and undergone by that lieutenant in the navy who 
threw down the Logan Rock in Cornwall, and was 
forced to put it up again. Were it not for this latter 
circumstance, I should hardly have attributed the 
violence so visible on this Tor to human agency, 
but to an earthquake or some convulsion of nature. 
But the power of the wedge, though perhaps the 
simplest, is almost incalculable. The rock itself, as 
I should conceive, afforded materials for its own de^ 

"The basins are generally to be found on the 
upper lamina ; between which and the next a stone 
may easily be inserted, and being struck and forced 
inward by another, and that by a third, one end o€ 

340 OVER TOR. [let. 

this thin mass is elevated, till by a corresponding 
depression the other end preponderates, and the 
summit of this lofty structure, which had defied a 
thousand storms, not only falls below but carries 
ruin and destruction far around. Indeed, I cannot 
but think that the very name of Over Tor is owing 
to this overthrow of the rocks, which, whether natural 
or artificial, must strike the most inattentive observer. 
At any rate the etymology is not so far-fetched as St. 
Mary Overy, a name given to a church in Southwark, 
as I was informed by a learned antiquary, from the 
circumstance that near it people were accustomed 
to go 'over the ferry' to the city. Certain it is that 
you can trace this cataract of rocks, as you might 
fancy a cataract of water suddenly arrested and fixed 
by ice. 

" The rock on which this elevated pile was poised 
is still as horizontal as the base itself beneath it. 
The second rock has slid from it, but finding a point 
d'appui on a kind of platform which is itself of 
considerable elevation, remains only in an oblique 
position. The third rock is completely pendent from 
the platform, but is prevented falling by the fourth, 
that has found a base on some rocks below, and thus 
completes this accidental bridge : for a chasm of no 
small dimensions is formed by it, and an ox we saw 
had retired to it for shade and shelter. The fifth, on 
which are the basins, is perpendicular. Contiguous 
to this, and thrown I think out of their position by 
its falling against them, are two rocks, which we 
ventured to consider were tolmens. They rest on a 
rock whose face is as smooth and perpendicular as a 
wall, thirteen feet and a half in length, and seven feet 
in height There seems to have been a semicircular 


inclosure of stones in front of it ; and, from the upper 
edge of this wall, one of the two rocks projects three 
feet and a half, like the sounding-board of a pulpit. 
Three or four stones, somewhat similar to that which 
supports the tolmen at Staple Tor, are lying under 
them, and were probably applied to that purpose 
here. Were this the case, there is reason to conclude 
that these tolmens, which seem to have been parallel, 
if not resting against one another, were overthrown 
by the shock occasioned by the fall of the rock on 
which are the basins; for it seems to have struck 
them near their point of conjunction, and, causing 
them to open to the right and left, deranged their 
supports and destroyed their equilibrium. The fallen 
basins are of an oblong shape, two feet by one, and 
about four inches and a half deep. T.he view from 
behind this Tor (itself forming the foreground, rich 
in colour and every possible variety of outline) is 
truly magnificent Its more elevated points afford a 
bold contrast both in shape and shadow to the faint 
and sweeping undulations of the distant horizon. 
Plymouth Sound, Mount Edgcumbe, and Hamoaze 
are conspicuous and attractive objects. Walkhamp- 
ton Tower (or possibly that of Sampford Spiney) 
glitters in the view, whilst the bold mass of Vixen 
Tor, and the crowned summit of Pew Tor beyond it, 
form a broad and sombre background for Merrivale 
Bridge, and the sparkling river Walkham that winds 

" I here may mention that on approaching this Tor 
we found several mounds of earth, from about five 
and twenty to thirty paces in circumference. They 
are not in the usual shape of barrows, being of an 
oblong square, whilst the latter are generally round or 

342 BAIR-DOWN. [let. 

oval. From their proximity to the circles, the cursus\ 
and the Tor, which, from its basins, &c, we have thus 
connected with Druidism, one might be tempted to 
imagine that these were places of sepulture for persons 
of that order; but on my afterwards asking Hannaford, 
the farmer, if he knew anything about them, he said 
they were rabbits' burrows ; and I am inclined to think 
he is perfectly right. 


" Close to Merrivale Bridge I was shocked, for I can 
use no milder expression, to see in the bed of this truly 
romantic river some of the largest rocks split with 
wedges, and, instead of presenting their usual flowing 
outline and their dark natural colour enriched with 
moss and lichen, obtruding themselves on the eye, not 
only bare but in straight and angular deformity. It is 
to be hoped, however, that they will soon be removed. 
I am sorry to observe that they have begun to take 
stones for the roads from the bed of our own beautiful 
Tavy. But such is the march of intellect and improve- 
ment. As a further proof of its progressing even on 
the Moor, I soon afterwards remarked a hand-bill 
pasted on one of the rocks near the side of the road. 
I could not help thinking that my inscriptions were 
more in character. But even these, I found, when I 
reached Bair-down, were beginning to be illegible. 
Indeed, when looking from the bridge for the name 
of a poet to whom I had consecrated one of the rocks 
beneath, we could only see some faint traces of the 

9 In our excursion of this day, I observed that among the various forms 
that Vixen Tor assumes, this lofty mass of rock has one which I have 
omitted when elsewhere describing them ; but which now forcibly im- 
pressed itself on my fancy ; namely, that of a lion sucking his paw. 


letters when the sun shone out. It was about two 
o'clock, and perhaps (from the spot where we stood) it 
might be wholly undistinguishable at any other hour. 
This vanishing and reappearing excited some degree 
of interest, and reminded me of the effect of the 
diorama. The loudest roar that then ascended from 
the Cowsick was occasioned by the rush of water over 
the rock that crosses the river, which I learnt from 
Hannaford is fifty-nine feet in length — it is perfectly 
straight : this they once talked of converting into an 



"nth Sept. 1832. — About two or three minutes' 
walk from the house, in a north-east direction, are the 
remains of a kistvaen which we had long proposed to 
open. "Three stones, about six or eight inches high, 
forming three sides of an oblong square, were all that 
was visible. On removing some turf and rushes, we 
found a rough pavement around them to the extent 
of three or four feet The stone at the western end 
(for they face pretty nearly the cardinal points) is two 
feet eight inches long. The northern stone is three 
feet ten inches ; the southern about the same dimen- 
sions, and the eastern stone is wanting. 

" We opened the centre, about two feet and a half ; 
and there came to the natural substratum, a hard 
gravel. The stones of inclosure reached to the same 
depth. Hannaford, who is somewhat acquainted with 
what he calls these caves, in procuring stones for walls, 
&c, was of opinion that it had been opened before, 
and that the stone at the east, together with the 
covering stone, had been removed for similar pur- 


344 BAIR-DOWN MAN. [let. xx. 

poses. I had reason afterwards fully to agree with 
him, for we found nothing amid the peat earth that 
filled the cavity but a small fragment of earthenware. 
It was of the very coarsest texture, somewhat smooth 
on one side, and extremely rough on the other. The 
surfaces were reddish, but the centre of a deep brown. 
It probably was the only remaining portion of an urn 
that had been broken and taken away with its con- 
tents, whatever they might be, by some previous and 
more fortunate explorer; though it is likely enough 
that the discovery gratified no other feeling than that 
of mere curiosity. An antiquary, perhaps, had he 
been present, might have decided, I will not say with 
what certainty, whether it was or was not the sepul- 
chre of some chieftain or Arch-Druid on the hill of 
bards. About a quarter of a mile distant, imme- 
diately outside the present boundary of Bair-down, 
(for my father gave it up for the purpose, I believe, 
of building a chapel which was never erected) and 
nearly opposite the road that leads to Plymouth, I 
was informed by Hannaford that a person named 
John Kerton, among what he called * burrows and 
buildings/ found some human bones ; and that he 
told him he could not rest till he buried them again. 

"I learnt from the same authority, having pre- 
viously requested him to measure it, that the erect 
stone or obelisk, called Bair-down Man, (probably 
corrupted from win, a stone) is eleven feet high, and 
eight feet round." 

The length of these extracts from Mr. Bray's 
Journal prevents my at present adding more. 



Tavistock, its situation and local advantages — The River, &c. — Great 
antiquity of the Town — Etymology of the Name — Beauty of the 
surrounding objects — The Vicarage — Browne, the Author of Bri- 
tannia's Pastorals, born in Tavistock — His lines on his Birth-place 
— The Nightingale not found in Devon — Little known of the Roman 
era in this part of the West — Tavistock connected with Saxon 
History — A Saxon Noble Founder of its Abbey — Progress of Chris- 
tianity in the West — By whom the Damnonii were converted not 
known — Mr. Southey's opinion on the Subject — The People of the 
West benefited by the Roman Conquest — Anglo-Saxons settled in 
this part of the Island — The first Bishops in Devon — Abbey of 
Tavistock ; its present remains — Orgar, his rank and office as 
Alderman or Earl of Devon — Elected at the Shiregemot — Office of 
Earl not at first hereditary — Orgar, Father of the celebrated Elfrida, 
who was born in Tavistock — Her early Life — Ethelwold deputed to 
woo her for the King — Deceives the King and marries her himself — 
The Trick discovered ; its fatal consequences — Different opinions 
respecting the place where Ethelwold was slain — Risdon's account 
most probable — Edward the Martyr killed in Dorsetshire, where the 
Nunnery was built by Elfrida — Saxon Chronicle evidence of the 
fact — Miss Seward's mistake of Gawthorpe Hall, Yorkshire, for 
Harewood in Cornwall — Mason's Tragedy of Elfrida. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, June i6th y 1832. 

Having now led you through the western limits of 
Dartmoor, whence the river Tavy takes its rise, I 
purpose in this letter commencing my account of the 
town to which that river gives name : a town of very 
high antiquity, and possessing many interesting claims 
on our attention, not only in a general but individual 



point of view ; since it has given birth to many whose 
names have become illustrious in the history or 
literature of this kingdom. 

Tavistock is situated on the banks of the Tavy, on 
the western side of the Forest of Dartmoor, and not 
very far distant from the river Tamar, which divides 
the counties of Cornwall and Devon. It lies thirty- 
two miles west from the city of Exeter; sixteen south 
from Okehampton ; and fourteen north from the good 
town of Plymouth. Few places in England, perhaps, 
have been more blest with local attractions by the 
bounties of a gracious Providence. ♦ 

The town lies in a valley surrounded by hills, 
whose verdure is perpetual. The river is here pecu- 
liarly beautiful : it runs, with great rapidity, over 
vast portions of rock that form its bed. The whole 
parish abounds with springs and rivulets of the 
purest water. The woods (where they are suffered 
to remain, for the love of lopping a* tree in every 
hedge is the sin of this neighbourhood) are exceed- 
ingly luxuriant : the oak is common, and the most 
wooded parts lie westward in the parish. The soil is, 
generally speaking, of a deep brown, here and there 
tinged with red ; it is exceedingly rich and fertile ; 
and strata of alluvial deposit may be observed in 
many of the valleys. Our pasturage is abundant ; 
and we are celebrated, like most parts of Devon, for 
the excellence of that luxury, our scalded or clouted 
cream. This has been honoured by the notice of a 
poet whose verse captivates the fancy, and raises even 
to ecstasy the spirit of every reader whose heart and 
eye are sensible to the charms of Nature, in all the 
varied productions of her hand. Spenser thus alludes 
to our cream in his delightful poem, the Shepherd's 

xxi.] CLOUTED CREAM. 347 

Calendar ; where Colin recites to Thenot the graces 
and courtesy of a deceased shepherdess : 

" Ne would she scorne the simple shepheard swaine ; 
For she would call him often heme, 
And give him curds and clouted cream." 

We have another delicious preparation from our 
milk, called junket, which has also been noticed by a 
great poet ; for Milton writes in his U Allegro, 
"And fairy Mab the junkets ate. w 

Indeed we are so celebrated for our cream, and have 
been in all ages, that I doubt not of this was made 
the very sort of butter, in the western parts of Britain, 
so much esteemed by the Romans : the wicker- worked 
baskets, and the butter of the Britons, being alluded 
to by one or more of their most famous writers. 1 
This luxury, no doubt, continued to be held in 
estimation in the times of the Anglo-Saxons, when 
the western part of the island became more than 
ever valuable on account of its flocks and herds. 

Respecting the name of our town, I here insert 
an extract from my brother Alfred John Kempe's 
historical notices of Tavistock Abbey, that appeared 
in the Gentleman's Magazine, to which, on almost all 
subjects connected with antiquity, he was for many 
years a constant and valuable contributor. 

"The etymology of the name Tavistock does not 
appear to be of difficult solution. * The place on the 
Tavy' is evidently implied by the compound ; but it 
may be observed that, by early writers of the monkish 
age, the Tavy is called the Tau, and that the Taw, 
the Towy, the Tay, and the Taf, are common appel- 
latives of many British rivers. The Tavy discharges 
itself into the Tamar, a few miles above Plymouth ; 

1 Martial mentions the baskets, Pliny the butter, of the barbarians. * 

•I ■ 


I. • 





of which last -mentioned river it may be accounted a 
branch. There can be little doubt, therefore, that the 
Tavy is an abbreviation of the British words Tau- 
veckatty or the 'little Tau/ thus distinguishing the 
tributary branch from the Tau-mawr, (afterwards 
Tamar) the 'great Tau.' When the Saxons estab- 
lished this town and monastery on the banks of the 
Tau-vechan, ttyey were content to affix a short adjunct 
from their own language to the original British words, 
and the abbreviated form, so much sought by com- 
mon parlance, easily moulded Tau-vechan-stoke into 
Tavistock. The Saxon Chronicle indeed strongly 
countenances this opinion ; in that venerable record it 
is called '^Etefingstoke,' which, without any distortion, 
may be read At-tavingstoke. 2 

I confess, that in describing my beloved town, I 
shall find some difficulty in speaking with other than 
the most partial feelings ; since so much cause have I 
to give it a good name ; so much do I delight in the 
scenery that everywhere surrounds us ; so much 
pleasure do I feel in the tranquil retirement of the 
Vicarage, (situated as it is in a beautiful garden, 

8 Respecting the etymology of Tavistock, I also copy the following 
passage from the works of Browne, the poet, who was born in that 
town. "Tavie is a river, having his head in Dertmoor, in Devon, 
some few miles from Marie-Tavy, and falls southward into Tamar : 
out of the same Moore riseth, running northward, another, called Tau : 
which by the way the rather I speak of, because in the printed A/a/mes- 
burie de Gest. Pontific. lib. 2, fol. 146, you reade : ' Est in Damnonia 
ccenobium Monachorum juxta Tau fluvium, quod Tavistock vocatur : ' 
whereas upon Tau stands (neere the north side of the shire) Taustocke, 
being no remnants of a monasterie ; so that you must there reade, 
'juxta Taw fluvium,' as in a Manuscript Copie of Malmesburie's time 
(the form of the hand assuring Malmesburie's time) belonging to the 
Abbey of Saint Augustine, in Canterburie, I have seen in the hands of 
my very learned friend M. Selden." Indeed Tawstock and Tavistock 
are still very frequently confounded. 

xxi.] THE VICARAGE. 349 

where the venerable walls of the Abbey form the 
boundary of our little domain) that I fancy no spot 
so delightful as my own home. Many I dare say 
would smile at hearing such an assertion ; but if it 
be a prejudice, it is not only a very harmless one, 
but such as may be encouraged and turned to good 
account ; a grateful contentment with that lot given 
to us as our portion by the goodness of Providence, 
being one of those duties that carry with them their 
reward — a constant enjoyment of the things that are 
our own. Here, indeed, may we say, " the lines have 
fallen to us in pleasant places." And if it be true, 
(which surely no considerate mind will deny) that next 
to the blessing of dear kindred and friends, there are 
no temporal blessings to be compared to a quiet 
home situated in a picturesque country, with plenty 
of books and leisure to read them, we have every 
cause to feel that we are blest ; and to entertain that 
kindly spirit even towards the inanimate things of 
this neighbourhood, which can only be truly felt 
where there is content at home to receive it. A mind 
distracted with worldly cares and desires, the gratifi- 
cation of which arises from without, and is dependent 
on the will of others, on casualty, or caprice, can never 
be sufficiently disengaged to admit that fellowship of 
feeling which associates its own tranquillity with the 
beauty and harmony of Nature. There must be rest 
in the soul to enjoy it in the fields ; and there it will 
be found, like " that peace of mind which passeth all 
understanding, which the world can neither give nor 
take away," a constant source of the most enduring 

Browne the poet was fully alive to this feeling, 
when he celebrated, in the numbers of pure English 

350 BROWNE THE POET. [let. 

verse, the pastoral delights of his ' native Tavy,' as he 
calls the river that watered the town where he first 
drew breath. The associations created by poetry 
never die : they are like the immortal spirit to whose 
aspirations they owe their birth, above the things of 
this life, and are neither liable to the chances nor 
changes of fortune. To live in a neighbourhood that 
has given birth to a poet, that has seen him in his 
infancy sporting amidst its hills and valleys, and 
receiving by its 'voiceful streams* those early im- 
pressions which in after and maturer years become 
the theme of his song, is a circumstance in itself 
enough to inspire even a common mind with some of 
those better feelings that have no part with the world, 
or the worlds law. On this account, had Tavistock 
no other claim to veneration — as the birthplace of 
Browne, the author of Britannia's Pastorals, it would 
stand eminent amongst towns. With what feelings 
its picturesque situation inspired the youthful poet, 
even these simple lines (which more by chance than 
design have just met my eye, in turning over the 
pages of his works) may serve to tell. 

"As (woo'd by Maye's delights) I have been borne 
To take the kind ayre of a wistfull morne 
Neere Tavie's voyceful streame (to whom I owe 
More straines than from my pipe can ever flowe ;) 
Here have I heard a sweet bird never lin 
To chide the river for his clam'rous din ; 
There seem'd another in his song to tell, 
That what the fayre streame did he liked well ; 
And going further heard another too 
All varying still in what the others doe ; 
A little thence, a fourth with little paine 
Con'd all their lessons and then sung againe ; 
So numberlesse the songsters are that sing 
In the sweet groves of the too careless spring, 


That I no sooner could the hearing lose 
Of one of them, but straight another rose 
And perching deftly on a quaking spray, 
Nye tired herself to make her hearer stay, 
Whilst in the bush two nightingales together 
ShoVd the best skill they had to draw me thither." 

Browned allusion to the nightingale, in these lines, 
must either have been a poetical licence, or some 
change must have taken place in the natural history 
of Devon since his day ; as that bird is now unknown 
in our county. White attributes the failure of it with 
us not to want of warmth, as the West is the mildest 
part of the whole island ; but considers it a presump- 
tive argument that this bird crosses over from the 
Continent at the narrowest passage, and strolls not so 
far westward. Some naturalists, however, conclude 
that we are wanting in the peculiar kind of food on 
which the nightingale delights to feed. 

I shall not enter here upon any individual local 
descriptions ; because, as in the letters about Dart- 
moor, it will, I think, be more amusing to blend all 
such accounts with the historical and antiquarian 
notices, as they may occur. Thus, for instance, when 
I shall have occasion to speak of the great Sir Francis 
Drake, it will be time enough to mention the beautiful 
spot in which he was born, about a mile from our 
town. Something must previously be said of the 
early history of this place ; and the British period 
having already occupied many letters .in relation to 
the Moor, the Saxon comes next in succession ; as 
very little is known of the Roman era in this part of 

Indeed Tavistock is intimately connected with the 
Anglo-Saxon times, since not only to a Saxon noble 
was the town indebted for its costly Abbey, but 


here also was that language studied and taught after 
it had become obsolete in every other part of the 
kingdom. Here, too, the daughter of the founder of 
that Abbey — the unworthy wife of Ethelwold, the 
queen of Edgar, the cruel step-mother of his son — 
the beautiful Elfrida, first drew breath ; and here was 
acted the scene of that interview, which awakened in 
the heart of the young king a guilty passion that 
prompted him to commit the crimes of treachery* 
and murder. 

The foundation of the Abbey of Tavistock was 
a thing of so much importance, not only to the town, 
but in the ecclesiastical history of the county, that 
it becomes necessary to offer a few brief remarks 
on the progress of Christianity in the West, which 
inspired the kings of Wessex and the earls of Devon 
with that piety and zeal for the Church, so beneficial 
in its day, and so productive of good, before those 
corruptions gradually crept in which rendered the 
Reformation absolutely necessary, to restore the 
ceremonies, as well as the doctrines of our religion, 
to their primitive purity and spirit. 

At what period Christianity was first propagated in 
Damnonia, or by whom, is not I believe known with 
any degree of certainty : but, from the circumstance 
of the ancient Britons making Cornwall one of the 
strongholds of their retreat, it is probable, as the 
remnant of the bards and Druids still lingered with 
that people, that paganism might have maintained its 
sway in the West, when it was no longer to be found 
in the Midlands or other parts of Britain 3 . 

8 A few days after the above passage was written, a letter from Mr. 
Southey confirmed the opinion here expressed. That gentleman says : 
" Perhaps the Western Britons were less disturbed by wars than any 


It seems doubtful if Christianity was here propa- 
gated previous to the Saxon Conquest; though it is 
highly probable the natives of Devon benefited in 
civilization after the Roman power was established in 
these kingdoms. The Romans were stern foes, but 
generous conquerors ; and the nations they subdued 
were not left by them, as by the barbarous hordes of 
the North in their achievements, with no other mark 
than that of destruction to witness their victories. 
The useful and even the elegant arts of life came with 
them : the very ensign they bore — the eagle — a noble 
and a royal bird, as truly denoted the high character 
of their conquests, as did the banner of the raven, 
that dark bird of prey, prefigure the destructive 
victories of the cruel Danes. 

Though the Damnonii cannot be supposed to have 
acquired that degree of civilization wjiich would have 
rendered them equal to their Roman victors in the 
general refinement of their manners, yet the dis- 
countenance, and, as far as it could be effected, the 
extirpation of the rites of Druidism, answered a good 
end, by lessening the frequency of human sacrifices. 
The people, who had been accustomed to witness this 
wanton immolation of their fellow-creatures, became 
less barbarous : murder ceased to be a spectacle ; the 
keen relish for human blood, which in all nations such 
savage rites never fail to create, died away ; and the 

other people in the island, during the whole time of the Heptarchy. 
They bordered only upon Wessex, which was generally the best 
governed of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms; which was strong enough, 
for the most part, to make them quiet neighbours ; and was too much 
occupied on other sides to think of molesting them. Exeter continued 
long to be a half Welsh town, just as Freiburg, in Switzerland, is still 
divided between the two languages. During such a state of things, the 
bards had leisure to keep up the old religion in all its forms, and make 
the last stand against Christianity." 

vol. I. 2 A 


first noisome weed that would have impeded the 
growth of the good seed being thus cast out, the 
ground was gradually prepared to receive the future 
blessings of the tree of life. 

However much of superstition or of fraud there 
might have been in the Church at a very early period, 
yet, even in its corrupt state, its benefits were incalcu- 
lably great to a land that had so long been buried in 
the darkness and cruelties of paganism. Christianity, 
in every country where it takes root, as its first-fruits 
improves the wretched estate of the slave, the poor, 
and by teaching man that he is a responsible being, 
makes him become a reasonable one. How great 
must have been the change in Britain produced by 
planting the doctrines of Christ in lieu of those which 
were said to be derived from Odin or from Belus, 
which, like those of their eastern ancestors, were 

"Abominations ! and with cursed things 
His holy rites and solemn feasts profaned, 
And with their darkness durst affront his light, 
First Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood — 
Of human sacrifice and parents' tears !" 

The barbarisms too of divination, of consulting the 
entrails of human beings and of animals, whilst they 
were yet panting under the knife, were abolished. 
With no people was this custom more apparent than 
with the ancient Britons, who undertook no wars, or 
actions of any import, without consulting the lots or 
augury of the priests. 

To draw a comparison between sacred and profane 
things, it might be said of the early Christian mission- 
ary in his overthrow of augury, and preaching the glad 
tidings of the gospel in its stead, that like Prometheus, 


as he is made to recite his acts by the poet ^Eschylus, 
he took from man the power of searching out his 
future destiny, but gave him a far better boon — even 
Hope — in its stead. Surely this was a very just and 
beautiful allegory in the Greek dramatist; since, could 
men know the miseries they will suffer in their progress 
through life, the source of honourable or necessary 
exertion would become dried and barren ; but Hope, 
as a perennial fountain, plays on, and affords her re- 
freshing draughts to the pilgrim of the world, even to 
the last and closing hour of his weary journey towards 
the tomb. 

After the Anglo-Saxons were settled in this part 
of the island, 'Christianity was first propagated in 
the kingdom of Wessex, during the reign of Cyne- 
gils, by Byrinus (A.D. 634) who, finding the people 
idolators, undertook their conversion, with the sanction 
of Pope Honorius. The first episcopal see was in 
the city of Dorcester, not the Roman station, but, 
according to Fuller, an old city in Oxfordshire, where 
a church was erected. On the death of Byrinus, the 
kingdom in which he had planted the good seed was 
cruelly torn and divided; for that fierce idolator 
Penda, king of Mercia, invaded and conquered it ; 
and not till the rightful and Christian heir of the 
crown was restored did Wessex again taste the 
blessings of peace and of the gospel. Several worthy 
ecclesiastics were now favoured by the prince, and 
received by the people ; and the Spirit of God, 
' mighty in word and works,' was everywhere spread 
abroad with the happiest effects. Many churches 
were built, and that magnificent structure, Winchester 
Cathedral, was first commenced by Cenowalch, who 
there fixed Wina as its bishop. 


The civil wars which succeeded the death of the 
king, though they might for a while impede the 
growth, did not extirpate the fruits of Christianity; 
and soon after, the kingdom being divided into two 
dioceses, Winchester and Sherborne, Devonshire, in 
ecclesiastical matters, came under the jurisdiction of 
the latter. Good Bishop Aldhelm then filled the 
see, and ruled with great prudence, learning, and 
piety. In process of time Devonshire had bishops 
of its own, who were stationed at Tawton, Crediton, 
and Exeter. The first Bishops — Werstanus and 
Putta — were appointed about the beginning of the 
tenth century; the last-named met with a violent 
death ; since, on visiting at Crediton an officer of 
the royal household, from some unknown cause he 
was slain by one of UfFa's men. Putta was succeeded 
by Eadulphus, Ethelgarus, and Algarus. The last 
having sat ten years, gave up his see to Alfnodus, in 
consequence of the strenuous exertions of the famous 
St. Dunstan. This occurred about the year 962. 
He was succeeded in 970 by Alfwolgus. It must, 
therefore, have been during the time of Bishop 
Algarus, and of Edgar, King of Wessex, that Tavi- 
stock Abbey was first founded by Orgar, Earl, or 
Heretoge of Devon. 

. That once magnificent Abbey is now in ruins ; — 
the writer of this letter dwells within the boundary 
of its venerable walls ; nor is that dwelling, though 
become familAr by long use, unassociated with those 
recollections which render such a habitation replete 
with local interest and feeling. The grey walls ; the 
1 mouldering tower with its ruined windows, once gor- 

geous in the glowing hues of their stained glass, 
through whose empty space the wind now whistles 


in melancholy cadence ; the ivy-mantled arch ; the 
winding steps ; the entry, strewn with fragments of 
those columns which once upheld the stately roof, 
where now the bat waves her dusky wing, and all of 
former times is silent or forgotten, saving the whis- 
perings of superstition that have peopled even this 
poor archway with the ghosts of the dead ! — all are 
objects that cannot be contemplated without some 
thoughts that lead us to dwell on the rapid flight of 
time ; the mutability of governments ; the passions 
of men, and their violence even in a just cause — for 
the greater part of the ruin before our eyes was the 
work of the Reformation. Who but would lament 
this, when he reflects Bow much there is of evil that 
mingles itself with human actions, however good may 
be their aim ! We see the effects of those passions 
which exceeded the limits of reason or necessity, and 
but hastened that decay which is the final doom of 
all things here on earth. This is a lesson that may 
be taught even by such speechless monitors as these 
old Abbey walls. We look on the last fragment 
now left of the Abbey Church itself, 4 and call up 
the remembrance of what it was in the strength and 
beauty of its early days — a holy fane stately in 
every proportion, decorated with every ornament the 
sculptor's art could supply, and hung with jewelled 
pomp bestowed by nobles and kings to render it a 
temple fitted, in outward splendour, to the worship of 
Him in whose keeping are the hearts of kings, and 
from whose hand the royal crown is placed upon their 

. Orgar, to whose munificence the Western Church 
was indebted for the Abbey, which, no doubt, gave 

4 The archway, said to be Organs tomb. 

358 WISDOM OF ALFRED. [let. 

rise to the wealth and importance of the town, was 
born in or near Tavistock, and held the rank and 
office of earl, or alderman, of Devon. The court in 
which an earl presided met twice a year, after 
Michaelmas and Easter ; it was composed of the 
freeholders of the shire, who had a voice in the 
decisions. The bishop also presided in it with the 
earl, (so early was the spiritual combined with the 
civil authorities in this kingdom) whose rank was the 
highest in the order of thanes. Before the time of 
Alfred the Great this nobleman ruled in the county 
with the power of a petty king, since all affairs, civil 
as well as military, were within his absolute controL 
Such power Alfred, with that wisdom which dis- 
tinguished all his actions and his laws, considered 
too much to be vested in the person of any subject ; 
I and as some counterpoise he appointed a sheriff 

in each shire, who in all matters of jurisprudence 
should have an equal authority, and should guard 
the dues of the crown from any abuses or misappro- 

During the early periods of the Heptarchy the 
sovereign might nominate the earl of a county, and 
could deprive him of his rank, if he wilfully suffered 
a notorious robber to escape justice; but in process 
of time he was more frequently elected at the shire- 
gemot, a general court, by the voice of the freeholders 
of land ; and Alfred, who was so true a friend to liberty 
that he left it recorded in his will, that a native of 
England "should be free as his own thoughts," was 
nevertheless too wise to fancy that real liberty could be 
long maintained if it degenerated into licentiousness. 
He supported, therefore, the full power vested in the 
freeholder of land, who had a stake in the country ; 

! : 


but never did he suffer power to fall into the hands of 
the mob, certain that the base in spirit will ever be 
the turbulent in action ; and therefore, even for their 
own sakes, to be held in subjection. 

The office of earl was not at first hereditary, though 
in process of years it became such by the increasing 
fitness, learning, and wealth of the aristocracy. In 
times of war the earl assumed the title of duke, or 
heretoge, a title which signified 'a leader/ He was 
a member also of the Witenagemot, or 'assembly 
of wise men/ the parliament of the Anglo-Saxons. 
Such was the rank and office of Orgar, the founder 
of our Abbey, the father of Elfrida ; and ere we turn 
to the history of that monastic building, it will be 
proper to say something respecting that of the earl 
and his celebrated daughter. 

Indeed, the story of Elfrida forms so striking a 
feature in the history of this place, and as one par- 
ticular event connected with it has been a subject of 
discussion with antiquaries, there needs no apology 
for here reverting even to those very circumstances 
which are already so well known. 

The daughter of Orgar, Earl of Devon, had 
acquired such reputation for her charms, that it 
excited the curiosity and interest of the king, whose 
passionate admiration of beauty had already induced 
him to commit many immoral actions, which Dunstan 
(then Archbishop of Canterbury, and the keeper of 
his conscience) let pass on terms of easy reprehension ; 
though for a marriage contracted within what the 
Church of Rome pleased to consider a prohibited 
degree, he had, in the former reign, persecuted with 
the utmost bitterness the youthful and royal pair, 
Edwy and Elgiva. But Edgar was more friendly to 


the views of the primate, and to the monks; and was, 
also, as hard upon the married clergy as Dunstan 
could desire he should be. To treat, therefore, his 
amours with lenity, or to absolve them on the easiest 
possible penance, might have been considered as a 
grateful return for obligations such as these. 

In order to satisfy his curiosity, Edgar deputed his 
friend and favourite, Earl Ethelwold, to visit Elfrida 
at her father's palace, which was situated in or near 
Tavistock ; and Ethelwold, as we shall presently find, 
being considerably older than the young lady, perhaps 
there was not so much imprudence in the act as on 
the first view might be suspected. The object of the 
favourite's journey was to ascertain if she was really 
possessed of that surpassing beauty which fame had 
ascribed to her, and if so to offer her, on the part of 
the king, a crown as queen and consort of England. 
We see by this that Edgar must have entertained a 
very good opinion of his friend's taste ; and we also 
see that he acted quite in character, and evinced no 
other desire in taking a wife than that of finding her 
very handsome. Such a motive, when it stands alone, 
has nothing in it of that delicacy which gives grace 
and dignity to the youthful passion of love ; and we 
hear nothing of Edgar's being anxious to ascertain if 
she were good as well as fair. 

Ethelwold, no doubt, set off with every intention 
to execute his charge honestly towards the king ; but 
the poet writes — 

" Friendship is constant in all other things, 
Save in the office and affairs of love : 
Therefore all hearts in love use their own tongues. 
Let every eye negotiate for itself, 
And trust no agent ; for beauty is a witch 
Against whose charms faith melteth into blood." . 


Edgar had yet to learn this lesson, and Shakspere 
was not then born to teach it. 

The court of Orgar, equal in splendour to that of 
many of the Saxon princes, received its greatest lustre ' 
from the personal character of its lord. Munificent 
and courteous, zealous for the Church, brave and 
noble, Orgar indeed was a man whose alliance might 
be sought by Edgar as one of the most honourable 
the age and the kingdom could afforcl. Nor was he 
at this period less happy in his domestic than in 
his public fortunes. His son Ordulph, of gigantic 
stature and strength, 5 possessed a courage not inferior 
in proportion to those extraordinary physical powers 
with which it was combined. He was also of such 
eminent piety that, according to the monkish his- 
torians, Heaven deigned to visit him with visions 
and dreams ; to one of which, hereafter to be told, 
we are indebted for the. foundation of our Abbey on 
the banks of his native Tavy. 

Elfrida was the only daughter of this illustrious 
earl. Young, lovely, and living in comparative 
seclusion under Organs care, amidst the shadowy 
groves and sweet retirement of Devon, she had not 
yet known the temptations which in after years, 
awaking in her bosom the passions of pride, self- 
will, and ambition, led her step by step to the com- 
mission of those foul crimes that, however much her 
outward form might resemble a spirit of light, cast 
over her soul a darkness which rendered it fit for those 
regions where hope never enters. 

At the time Ethelwold first beheld her, it is most 
likely he saw nothing in her that could lead him to 
suspect she was less amiable than beautiful. He saw 

5 The thigh bone of Ordulph is still preserved in Tavistock Church/ 


and loved her for her surpassing fairness. Beauty is 
considered by moralists and divines as a dangerous 
gift : no doubt it is so unless it is governed by those 
precepts of virtue and religion which render it harm- 
less. Yet, when thus governed, surely as the gift of 
God it must be numbered amongst his blessings. 
There is a law to regulate all things of the earth 
and of the spirit. The * heavenly arch* that hangs 
above our heads, and compasses the whole celestial 
sphere, is beautiful with order and with light, and, as 
the stay of all creation, is obedient to the Hand that 
raised it. That 'heavenly arch* exalts not itself, but 
its Maker. So should it be with human beauty; and, 
when so considered, to condemn the fair gift of an 
infinite and wise Disposer of all gifts, is as great a 
folly as it would be to censure or to look with in- 
difference on a delightful landscape, or to prefer the 
hard and barren ground to mountain and valley 
clothed with wood, and lovely in the mantle of its 
verdure and its flowers. 

Ethelwold thus captivated by her charms, unmind- 
ful of his honour and unfaithful to his trust, demanded 
her hand, not for Edgar but himself. Orgar, ignorant 
of the more elevated fortune to which his daughter 
was justly entitled by the intentions of the king, and 
in all probability deeming the favourite an advanta- 
geous match for her, consented, provided Ethelwold 
might gain Edgar's approval of the marriage. Besides 
the respect which Orgar wished to show the king, 
there might be some policy in thus referring to him 
to sanction the proposal of the favourite ; since the 
time had not yet arrived that rendered a Saxon earl 
of a shire in a great measure independent of any 
authority higher than his own. The king had then 


the power to nominate the alderman of a county ; 
the office was not yet hereditary in its succession ; so 
that the reigning prince might become troublesome 
should he take offence at any act that bordered on 
too much independence of his will. 

To obtain Edgar's consent to marry the very 
woman Ethelwold had been deputed to visit on his 
account, must have been a difficulty which none but 
a crafty man would have attempted ; as, by a fair 
statement of the case„the enamoured earl must have 
been certain such consent would be withheld. De- 
spairing of success by honest means Ethelwold had 
recourse to artifice: and as such schemes generally 
end in open shame or misery, even so was it in this 
instance ; since in obtaining his object by falsehood, 
he did but eventually " commend the poisoned chalice 
to his own lips." He now abused the king's ear with 
the report that though Elfrida was fair, her beauty 
was not equal to the celebrity it had acquired ; no 
doubt her rank and fortune had been the cause of 
her personal attractions being thus magnified by the 
common voice of fame. And he took occasion to 
intimate, that though such advantages could be of 
no value to the king, they would be of great benefit 
to a nobleman of his court, and finally requested 
permission to marry her himself, as a means of raising 
his fortune. The king suspecting no deceit consented, 
and the marriage was solemnized ; but Ethelwold, 
fearful of the consequences, held his bride in the 
utmost seclusion in Devon, lest, meeting the eye of 
Edgar, her fair face should at once betray the artifice 
by which he had made her his own. 

But however much he might labour to hide it, 
Ethelwold's falsehood could not long be concealed. 


No sooner had Edgar received the intimation that 
his confidence had been abused, than he resolved to 
discover the truth. For this purpose he went to 
Exeter ; and thence sent word to the Earl of Devon, 
with whom Elfrida and her husband were residing, 
that he designed speedily to be with him, to hunt in 
the Forest of Dartmoor adjoining. The guilty Ethel- 
wold, suspecting the true cause of the royal visit, 
now found that confidence which had enabled him 
to act with such duplicity, in a moment forsake 
him : he had no resource left ; but acquainting his 
wife with the truth, entreated her by the plainness of 
her dress to conceal her charms as much as possible, 
from the eyes of a monarch whose susceptible and 
light disposition would so little enable him to resist 

Elfrida promised compliance ; but, prompted by 
vanity and by resentment towards her husband for 
having been the means to deprive her of a crown, she 
used every art to set forth her beauty to the greatest 
advantage, and inflamed the king with so violent a 
passion, that he resolved to revenge himself on his 
perfidious favourite. On the following morning, 
whilst they were hunting, he watched an opportunity, 
and taking Ethelwold at an advantage slew him ; and 
at a place in Dartmoor Forest called Wilverley, since 
Warlwood, the earl was found slain with an arrow, or, 
according to William of Malmesbury, run through the 
body with a javelin. 

That historian also states that the illegitimate son 
of Ethelwold approached the king immediately after 
the commission of his father's murder, and on Edgar's 
asking him " How he liked that kind of game ?" 
barbarously and servilely replied, " Well, my sovereign 


liege ; I ought not to be displeased with that which 
pleases you." The king who could be brutal enough 
to put such a question at such a moment to a son, 
was quite capable of being pleased with the un- 
natural answer ; and the young man from that hour 
succeeded to his father's place in the royal favour, 
which he held till the death of that monarch. From 
the circumstance of this illegitimate son being a 
man grown at the time of his father's death, we may 
gather that Ethelwold must have been much older 
than his wife, or his murderer ; since Edgar, who soon 
after married Elfrida (probably younger than himself) 
lived with her some years, and died at the early age 
of thirty-two. 

Edward, the child of his first marriage, succeeded 
to the throne ; but Elfrida was anxious that her son 
Ethelred should be king. In consequence of this 
determination, about four years after Edgar's death, 
she took an opportunity of ridding Ethelred of the 
only impediment that stood between him and the 
' golden round ' that she longed to see glitter upon his 
brow. For her step-son, Edward, chancing one day 
to call at her castle gate, she hastened to receive him ; 
and though the young king refused to alight from his 
horse, he accepted the stirrup-cup she offered as the 
customary mark of hospitality. Whilst engaged in 
drinking, the unfortunate Edward was, by her order, 
stabbed in the back by the hand of a ruffian. He rode 
off immediately, mortally wounded ; and. at length 
dropped dead from his horse, near the door of a poor 
blind cottager; where the body was found by Elfrida's 
people, who had pursued Edward by tracking his 
blood. Thinking to conceal so foul a crime, the cruel 
step-mother caused the corpse to be thrown into a 


well ; but a few days after it was discovered and 

Such was the guilt of this miserable woman. It 
does not appear, however, that she was accessory to 
the death of Ethelwold. I am aware that the place 
where he fell has become a subject of doubt. I shall 
here, therefore, give the different opinions that may 
be cited, and leave you to determine which approaches 
nearest to the truth. Prince, in his curious work, 
the Worthies of Devon, expressly says that Earl 
Ethelwold was killed at Wilverley, since Warlwood, 
in the Forest of Dartmoor. There is a place near 
Dartmoor to this day called Willsworthy; and Prince 
makes this assertion on the authority of Risdon's 
Manuscript Survey of Devon. Risdon's reputation 
stands so deservedly high, as an antiquary who in his 
day had examined many ancient records, that from 
whatever source he derived his opinion it is worthy 

William of Malmesbury, on the contrary, says that 
Ethelwold was slain by Edgar whilst hunting "in 
a wood at Warewelle y or Harewood, in Dorsetshire." 
But Browne the poet has proved, in the instance of 
the river Tavy being printed the river Tau, that the 
printed copies of Malmesbury differed in that point 
from the manuscript one of ' Malmesbury' } s time,' in 
the possession of his 'learned friend Mr. Selden.' 
No doubt this error arose from the carelessness of 
transcribers ; and if the name of one place might be 
thus erroneously stated, even so might be that of 

Some antiquaries, unacquainted with the localities 
of Earl Orgar's territory, and never suspecting that 
any printed copy of Malmesbury could be incorrect, 


overlooked his error about the county, and deter- 
mining to keep as close as possible to Devon, placed 
the scene of Ethelwold's death on the opposite side 
of the river Tamar, at Harewood in Cornwall! This, 
I do not hesitate to say, is a most improbable con- 
jecture ; since in order to reach it Edgar must have 
encountered the most formidable difficulties ; those 
of riding many miles about, through forests vast and 
intricate, and rendered dangerous of access by a river 
so broad and deep as the Tamar; for no bridge 
could at any time have existed nearer than New 
Bridge, a structure of a much later period : whilst on 
the other hand, the Forest of Dartmoor lay contiguous 
to Tavistock, where Orgar, the father of Elfrida, had 
a palace; and where Ethelwold and his beautiful 
wife were residing with him, when Edgar surprised 
them by that visit which ended so fatally for the 

Some have supposed the woods of Warleigh — and 
certainly with much better reason than those of 
Harewood — to have been the scene of the murder. 
To reach those woods no river intervened, to render 
access to them either difficult or dangerous. Besides, 
they were in all respects fitted for the pleasures of 
the chase. And if it was improbable that Edgar 
should cross the river into Cornwall to commit the 
murder, still less likely is it that (as some antiquaries 
aver) he should ride so far as into Dorsetshire for that 
purpose. William of Malmesbury might possibly 
have been mistaken when he says that Elfrida built 
a nunnery at Warewelle, or Harewood in Dorset, on 
the spot where her husband was slain. After the 
death of her second' husband (the king who killed 
her first) she retired to Corfe Castle, where she caused 

j55 ELFRIDA. [let. 

LL> u:: fortunate son to be stabbed at her gate He 
rvxie ■: ff. bet his body was found in a wood in Dorset- 
ski »v. Might it cot therefore have been in consequence 
of :ku circumstance that, after she was awakened to 
remorse, she erected the nunnery in expiation of so 
atrocious a crime ? The death of Ethelwold probably 
cost her no remorse, since there is no evidence that 
she had anv share in that murder. 6 

As a strong confirmation of this opinion, I shall 
here cite the following passage from the Saxon 
ChrcnuUi "This year" (978) "King Edward was 
slain at Corfes-geat (Corfe Castle) in the evening of 
the 1 5th of the Calends of April, and he was buried 
at Ware ham without any royal honours. No worse 
deed than this had been committed amongst the 
people of the Angles since they first came to the land 
of Britain." 7 Now, when we recollect that William 
of Malmesbury says Elfrida built her nunnery at 
Warewelle, in Dorsetshire ; and that Edward dropped 
dead from his horse in a wood, and was buried as 
above stated ; I cannot help thinking that Warewelle 
and Wareham were contiguous, and that the nunnery 
was erected on the spot where his body was found, 
and not Ethelwold's. 8 It is absolutely necessary in 
ail doubtful points to compare one fact with another, 
as the most careful chronicler will sometimes fall 
into an error; or mistakes (as Browne discovered 

• Rapin says Elfrida founded two nunneries as an atonement for her 
crimes; one at Ambresbury in Wilts, and the other at Warewelle or 
Whorwel in Dorset. 

7 Miss Gurney's translation. 

8 Though Edward the Martyr was buried at Wareham, he did not 
long rest there; for, in 980, the Saxon Chronicle states that "St. 
Dunstan and the Alderman iElfhere fetched the body of the holy 
King St. Edward from Wareham, and brought it with great pomp to 

xxi.] ELFRIDA. 369 

in William of Malmesbury) may have been committed 
for him in transcription. Whilst in Britanny, by an 
attentive examination of the localities of Auray, we 
discovered an error made even by Froissart, respect- 
ing the spot where the great battle was fought between 
De Blois and De Montford. For want of collating, 
even Hume committed a mistake about Elfrida ; for 
when speaking of her marriage he says she was the 
daughter and heir of the Earl of Devon ; this could 
not have been the case, as her brother Ordulph was 
then living. 

Elfrida, about the time she built the nunnery at 
Warewelle, was not only held in execration by the 
people of England, but became a prey to a state of 
remorse borcfering on despair. Her alarmed con- 
science represented to her imagination a fiend that 
was ever present before her eyes, on the watch to 
seize her soul to convey it to a place of torture. Her 
days and nights became horrible ; and she was heard 
to shriek and wail as if endeavouring to escape the 
grasp of this imaginary phantom. She clothed her- 
self with such armour as was then considered invul- 
nerable to the shafts of infernal malice — a robe 
covered with crosses : and giving herself up to the 
rigours and seclusion of her nunnery, she there died a 
miserable but striking example of the retributive 
justice of Heaven, which thus visited her crimes by 
the bitter and enduring agonies of remorse. 

Before I quit the subject of Edward's murder, I 
cannot resist giving the following passage from the 
Saxon Chronicle, as it serves to show with what just 
indignation the crime was considered. In speaking 
of his death that venerable record says — " His mortal 
kinsman would not avenge him, but his Heavenly 

vol. 1. 2 B 

370 ELFRIDA. [let. 

Father hath avenged him greatly. His earthly mur- 
derers would have blotted out his memory from the 
world, but the Avenger who is above, hath widely 
extended his fame in heaven and earth : and whereas 
they formerly would not bow down before his living 
body, now they piteously bend their knees to his 
dead bones." 

So universal was the consternation with which all 
were seized on hearing of this event, that no man, 
after such an example of treachery, held his life to 
be safe. The murder, too, had been committed in 
violation of the common laws of hospitality, hitherto 
considered sacred. Deep drinking, the vice of the age, 
which both the Saxons and the Danish marauders 
had contributed to render familiar, was for awhile 
discontinued; since no one would trust himself in 
the unguarded posture of partaking of the social cup, 
for fear it should be followed by the blow of an 
assassin. Hence, as we are told by William of 
Malmesbury, each man before he tasted of the ' was- 
sail bowl* required a pledge from his companion 
that he would watch over and protect him whilst 
engaged in the act. By all antiquaries this is con- 
sidered the origin of the familiar expression of 
pledging, or desiring another to partake first of the 

I have already alluded to Mason's Elfrida ; and 
that, following the popular error, he had laid the 
scene of his drama in Harewood forest, in Cornwall. 
This, however, is a trifling mistake compared to Miss 
Seward's ; who, in one of her letters on visiting 
Gawthorpe Hall, the seat of Lord Harewood, in 
Yorkshire> talks about 'the poignancy of her sensa- 
tions/ 'Harewood's glassy waters' shining through 

?xi.] MASONS ELFRIDA. 371 

'tangled brakes in the glens/ 'expanding into 
lakes' and 'sleeping on lawns/ whilst all the charm 
of these delights she experienced on this 'classic 
ground* (situated in Yorkshire) was conveyed by 
its connexion with the story and the drama of 
Elfrida! Mason took liberties enough with that 
story to destroy almost all historical truth ; and Miss 
Seward goes a step beyond him : for she, something 
like Mr. Bayes's prologue, where the sun, moon, and 
earth 'dance the hays/ makes Yorkshire take the 
place of Devonshire with no more ado than the 
flourish of a pen. I notice this out of no motive of 
disparagement to Miss Seward, of whose writings 
(excepting this letter about Harewood) I know very 
little. But she has reputation : and therefore so gross 
an error ought to be remarked, lest it should mislead 
those who, being under the dominion of 'a name/ 
may think what such a lady as Miss Seward asserts 
must be true. 

Wishing to refresh my memory respecting what 
Mason had made of the story of Elfrida, I last night 
read his drama, and his letters on the subject of his 
composing it on the Greek model ; and though his 
play contains some very beautiful poetry, as I closed 
the book I could not help feeling the truth of what 
was so long ago said by Horace — ' Incredulus odi? 
Poems, dramas, and romances, though each when 
founded on historical subjects affords the greatest 
delight, should I think, if I may venture to give any 
opinion, be always made subservient to some useful 
purpose ; and should never falsify the truth of history 
in any really important point. In many works, as 
the historical plays of Shakspere, and the historical 
novels of Sir Walter Scott, information and instruc- 

372 MASON'S ELFRIDA. [let. 

tion accompany delight. Who, for instance, has ever 
read Coriolanus or Julius Ccesar, without becoming 
familiarly acquainted with some of the most interest- 
ing characters and events of the Roman history ? or 
Henry IV. and Henry VIII. y without feeling as if he 
were living in the very days of those Princes ? And 
who has ever read Old Mortality, and many other of 
those masterly and lively fictions, without becoming 
familiar with the spirit of the times therein described, 
and fancying himself carried back to the very scenes 
in which the characters of the story bore so prominent 
a part ? 

But this praise can scarcely be given to Mason, 
who in his drama of Elfrida preserved . little more of 
truth in his historical characters than their names ; 
and has consequently perverted facts. He tells us in 
his letters, that a Chorus ought to be introduced in 
every tragedy, "to advance the cause of honesty and 
of truth,'* and that for want of this an audience will 
often go from a play with very false impressions. 
To follow the rule he has thus laid down, he ought 
to have made his own Chorus in Elfrida have but 
one burthen to their songs, and it should have been — 
'This story is all false;' then neither audience nor 
reader could have mistaken the matter. For if truth 
be in historical fiction what the soul is to the body — 
the cause of its usefulness, its vitality, and its interest 
in a moral view, we may say, comparatively, of the 
flowers of poetry which Mason has so abundantly 
scattered throughout his Elfrida, that they are but as 
flowers scattered upon a corpse. 

No female character throughout the whole history 
of this country is stained with a worse crime than 
that of Elfrida : yet Mason represents her as if she 

xxl] MASON'S ELFRIDA. 373 

had been as gentle and as amiable as a Lady Jane 
Grey ; and as constant and as virtuous in her love to 
her husband Ethelwold, as a Lady Rachel Russell. 
Though Elfrida had purposely set off her charms 
with art to allure the king, and became immediately 
after her husband's death the wife of his. murderer, 
yet the poet ends the play by making her swear to 
die a widow for Ethelwold's sake ! and the vow is 
echoed by the Chorus, stationed on the scene to 
'advance the cause of truth* with the reader or 
spectator. It may also be remarked that the poet 
has gained nothing by thus falsifying historical facts, 
since the true story is more suited to the muse of 
tragedy, whose emblems, the dagger and the poisoned 
bowl, proclaim her to be the queen of terror. It is 
also more replete with dramatic interest than his 
alterations ; and if he wanted fiction he might have 
resorted to it without the change of a single event 
The monastic character of the times would have 
opened to him a fine field ; and the superstitious legends 
then so generally credited would have furnished him 
with a sufficient apology, had he introduced an old 
monk, with a black cowl and a long beard, who like 
the Chorus might have been made a sort of monitor 
to the passions of the scene; and who, in his pro- 
phetic character, (for prophecy and visions were 
common with the monks) might have warned or 
foretold Elfrida the miseries that would follow as 
the consequences of her pride, her cruelty, and her 

But I have done; for though a little angry with 
Mason for altering and perverting the story of our 
Tavistock heroine, no one admires him more than 
I do; and if he had never written anything else, 

374 MASON'S ELFRIDA. [let. xxi. 

such noble poetry as we find in his Caractactts would 
have placed him in the first rank of modern bards. 

This letter having extended much farther than j 

I designed it should when I took up the pen, I 
must defer the account of the Abbey till another 



Religious influence on the character of Nations — That of Pagan Coun- 
tries contrasted with Christian — Saxon Church — On the spirit of the 
old Catholic Faith — Its great benefits to this Country — Its defects — 
Monasteries eminently useful — Their destruction in this Country 
deplored — The benefit of places of religious retirement further 
considered — Disadvantages of the Monastic life.; to whom dangerous 
— Credulity the character of former Ages — The influence of Spiritual 
agency, ever active though unseen— Dreams not on all occasions 
to be held in contempt — Addison's opinion of Dreams — Tavistock 
Abbey, its origin from a Dream — Orgar founder of the Abbey — 
Ordulph his Son — Benedictines — Augustines — Ordulph's wonderful 
acts as related by William of Malmesbury — A ruined Arch described ; 
the only remaining fragment of the once magnificent Abbey 
Church of Tavistock — Erroneously called Childe's Tomb — Story of 
old Childe's Horse — Friars of Tavistock — Their cunning — Guile 
Bridge — Abbey, to whom dedicated — St. Rumon; his History — 
Ethelred's Charter — Aimer the first Abbot. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, June nth, 1832. 

BEFORE entering upon the history of our Abbey, in 
its foundation, its prosperity, and its overthrow, I may 
perhaps be pardoned if I still endeavour, by a few 
prefatory remarks, to keep in view the general state 
of morals and religion, since abbeys and towns, like 
the fortunes of individuals, are in a very great degree 
indebted for their prosperity or their decline to the 
state of the country in which they exist. 

All nations throughout the world, more or less, 
take their character from their religion ; and it fol- 


lows as a necessary consequence, that where true 
religion is best practised and understood, there will 
men become the best and the most enlightened. The 
gods of barbarous nations are represented as fierce 
and bloody, and the barbarian is both. Those of 
Greece and Rome were warlike and luxurious, and 
the people were remarkable for war and luxury. And 
though they had amongst them a few such admirable 
persons as Socrates and Marcus Aurelius, yet the 
general character of their greatest and their best men 
was essentially different from that of the Christian 

The gentler virtues, the self-subduing spirit, incul- 
cated by Christianity, which makes forgiveness of an 
enemy and the returning good for evil duties of the 
noblest kind, were unknown ; and we therefore find 
no such men amongst the heathen worthies as our 
good Bishop Andrews, our Hooker, our Jeremy Taylor, 
or those humble and devout martyrs who, with a cou- 
rage that equalled any ever displayed by the heroes 
of antiquity, had yet the meekness and the tenderness 
of the dove, the beautiful emblem of that Holy Spirit 
which dwelt within and sanctified both their hearts 
and minds. 

The introduction of Christianity was therefore in 
every way a blessing ; and notwithstanding the set- 
ting up traditions and inventions of men, as even of 
more import than the written word of God, rendered 
it both corrupt and superstitious, yet the history of 
this country will serve to show how powerfully and 
how happily, even in this state, Christianity acted on 
society at large. It was as the dawn of day after a 
long and black night. But it was reserved for the 
Reformation to dispel every noxious vapour of human 

xxil] MONASTERIES. 377 

opinion, and to go forth with the splendour of an un- 
clouded sun, when there was ' perfect day/ 

It was the observation of Cicero in censure of the 
poet, that instead of raising men to live after the 
manner of the gods, Homer brought heaven down to 
earth, and made the gods live after the manner of 
men. The same kind of censure may be passed on 
the inventors of the Romish frauds and traditions; 
for the things they added to the truth were more of 
earth than of the spirit. 

That monasteries in former ages were eminently 
useful cannot be denied. In those early times, when 
the art of printing was unknown, all learning was 
found within the cloister. The regularity, the repose, 
and the leisure of a monastic life were absolutely 
necessary to the preservation and the culture of 
letters. Every monastery also had its school, and 
the novices were in many instances scholars. The 
sons of princes and nobles were generally educated 
within the walls ; and no rank or station was held to 
be above obedience to the Church. There youth was 
instructed, and those habits of submission, so salutary 
in themselves, so necessary for individual happiness, 
(since it is by obeying others that men learn to master 
their own passions) were inculcated as an essential 
duty. And age, as in the patriarchal state, was 
looked up to with that deference and respect which 
wisdom, derived from experience — its most certain 
source — is ever entitled to command. There is some- 
thing beautiful in the picture of a young man, with 
all his ardour, his golden hopes and airy imaginings, 
standing silent with modesty in the presence of the 
aged, and listening to those counsels which are to 
guide his future course. 

37* MONASTERIES. [let. 

Regularity, without which there is little profit in 
study, was rigidly enforced by those minute rules that 
gave to each hour its appropriate task, its duties, and 
its relaxations. There was then little or no infidelity : 
for the student did not doubt those sacred truths 
which were above his capacity or his years ; nor did 
he presume to fix bounds and limits to the all-wise 
providence of God, or to make the greatest things 
the least, by measuring them after the standard of his 
own faculties. Singularity was not then mistaken for 
superiority ; consequently it did not raise a false 
ambition in the weak and the vain to become singular, 
or to show their own folly in the effort to be wise 
beyond that which was written for their learning. 

Obedience to rulers, governors, and parents, was 
with them the promise in the spring-time of their 
days ; and honour and wisdom became their summer 
fruits. How beautiful an example have we of this in 
the life of the great Sir Thomas More, who always, 
on first seeing his father for the day, knelt down and 
reverently begged his blessing. " Train up a child in 
the way he sltould go" says Solomon, "and when he is 
old he will not depart from it." This was done, 
according to the religion of the times, and the child 
from early habit found submission no state of 

Nothwithstanding the faults and superstitions of a 
monastic education, this early habit of obedience as a 
religious duty was to it as the salt of the whole ; and 
the heroes of chivalry were thus prepared to follow 
without a murmur, through pain, toil, and death, 
wherever the call of duty — even though its object 
might sometimes be mistaken — should summon them 
to appear. The knights who, amid the arid and 

xxiij MONASTERIES. 373 

burning sands of Syria, rescued from infidels at the 
call of a hermit the sacred sepulchre of Jerusalem; 
afford a striking instance of that devoted spirit of 
obedience which men in those times thought it their 
chief glory to pay to their religion. 
. In the cloister, too, the sage, whose learned toils 
had no earthly praise for their object, and no reward; 
but that with which such labours repay themselves, 
felt, as he contemplated the emblems of the sacred 
sufferings before his eyes, that all human knowledge 
in whatever path pursued has but one desired end — 
to know 'Jesus Christ and him crucified ' for the sins 
of the whole world. Kings 'worn with the cares of 
state/ sometimes came to end their days, and 'lay 
their bones' within these monastic walls, and cast 
down their crowns at the foot of Him whose diadem 
was one of thorns. The poor, the abject, the despised, 
the very beggar who took his alms and left his benison 
at the convent door, as he lay prostrate before the cross 
felt how ennobling was the humility of a Christian — 
a humility that raised him from earth to heaven. 

Such perhaps is the fair side of the picture, in the 
earliest and the best state of monachism, before those 
gross superstitions and frauds which gradually crept 
in, produced its ruin in this country; and but for such 
crimes these institutions might even to this day have 
been spared, in a limited degree, as a refuge and a 
blessing to the old, the learned, the pious, and the 

" Hermits," says Sir Thomas More, " as well as 
monks, Montesinos, have been useful in their day. 
Your state of society is not the better because it 
provides no places of religious retirement for those 
who desire and need it." 


"Certainly not," replies Montesinos, "I consider 
the dissolution of the religious houses as the greatest 
evil that accompanied the Reformation." 

"Take from such communities," says Sir Thomas 
More, "their irrevocable vows, their onerous laws, 
their ascetic practices; cast away their mythology, 
and with it the frauds and follies connected there- 
with, and how beneficial would they then be found ! 
What opportunities would they afford to literature, 
what aid to devotion, what refuge to affliction, what 
consolation to humanity." l 

Certain it is that a state of seclusion never was, and 
never will be, suited to all tempers and minds. The 


great evil of monachism was its want of discrimination 
in this respect. If temporary disgust, some present 
care, or some worldly interest, had been the cause of 
consigning a human being to the convent walls, and, 
on those circumstances passing away forgotten or re- 
conciled, he grew tired of his retreat, and would 
gladly have returned again to take a part more 
congenial to his natural character in active life, his 
irrevocable vows' became to him a chain of adamant, 
that held him like Prometheus bound to a rock, whilst 
discontent as a vulture preyed upon his heart. Thus 
was his retreat a state of slavery, not of profit or of 
devotion ; and he was as worthless to others as he was 
miserable to himself; since a large degree of mental 
ease, of comparative happiness, is necessary to render 
men useful in society : a despairing can never be an 
active mind, for a withered tree bears no fruit. 

But perhaps the greatest dangers of a state of 
seclusion were experienced by those who, possessing 

1 See Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society. VoL i, 
page 338. 


a vivid imagination, would not confine its exercise 
to the right objects of faith, but lavished it upon 
those mysteries of God which are beyond 'this 
visible diurnal sphere.' Imagination is like wine, 
a draught to sweeten life or to drown reason — all 
depending on the measure of indulgence. To speak 
of this high faculty in a figurative manner, her 
power is regal, and the passions stand as servants 
around her, in due subjection to her will ; but if 
once she permits them to exceed the bounds of 
reason, they will hurry her along with them in their 
wild career ; madness or superstition seizing upon her 
as a slave. 

The wanderings, the perversions of the mind, no 
doubt produced many of those extravagances and 
disorders which have taken place in the worship of 
that Being who is the life and soul of order ; and who 
shows forth the greatness of His power in His calm 
but irresistible course. Yet how miserably was the 
nature of God mistaken by those ascetic devotees 
who fancied, in the darkness of their credulity, that 
voluntary misery could be pleasing to Him ; and 
who, in the melancholy or the madness of their own 
mood, dwelt on the visions of a distempered imagi- 
nation, and gave them forth as the immediate 
revelations of Heaven! To some such causes may 
be attributed those false visions and miracles, that 
render the pages of the monkish chroniclers in many 
instances not much better than a garden, so en- 
cumbered with weeds as to make it difficult to 
separate from them whatever is of a useful or a 
wholesome kind. 

But though during the early ages it was the general 
practice to ascribe remarkable events to some super- 



natural cause, we must not hastily conclude that all 
records of such a nature were fictions. 

It was the character of former ages to believe too 
much ; our own believes too little : tTieir vice was 
that of credulity ; ours is too often that of infidelity: 
and what is above reason too many deem contrary to 
it Yet so little do we really know concerning our 
own faculties, and of those things which we have no 
power to penetrate, that it should make us cautious 
how we judge the ways of God. There are spirits 
who walk the air as we do the earth ; there are 
intelligences everywhere about us that, as winged 
messengers of God, perform His will, and yet we 
neither see nor understand them. 

But what say the good and the wise, those who 
are wise because they are humble, and are as little 
children before their father? "I doubt not," says 
Addison, "that dreams, though known liars, some- 
times speak the truth." And Bishop Bull (who 
combated superstition, and was the adversary of the 
learned and eloquent Bossuet) thus writes : — " I am 
no doter on dreams, yet I verily believe that some 
dreams are monitory, above the power of fancy, and 
impressed on us by some superior influence. Nor 
shall I so value the laughter of sceptics, and the 
scoffs of Epicureans, as to be ashamed to profess 
that I myself have had some convincing experiments 
of such impressions. Now it is no enthusiasm ; but 
the best account that can be given of them is, to 
ascribe these things to the ministry of those invisible 
instruments of God's Providence that guide and 
govern our affairs and concerns — the angels of God." 

The remarks here ventured arose from my thoughts 
having been turned on the subject of dreams, by 

xxii.] DREAMS* 383 

finding how much an attention to them was the 
characteristic of the times about which I am now to 
write; for the foundation of our Abbey is ascribed, 
according to the Cartulary of Tavistock, to a vision 
or dream ; though it is one of so. marvellous and 
monkish a kind, that it most likely had its origin in 
the customary practice and credulity of the chroniclers 
of the age. Be this as it may, after consulting all 
the authorities I can here command, and some 
original notes and extracts from various writers 
made by Mr. Bray, I now proceed to glean from the 
whole the sum and substance of the following won- 
derful tale. 

I must, however, first observe that Orgar, Earl of 
Devon, died A.D. 971, and was interred in the Abbey 
Church of Tavistock, where his tomb, and that of 
his son Ordulph, William of Malmesbury states 
were to be seen in his time. As the Abbey was 
commenced in 961, it should appear that, though the 
idea of its erection originated with the son, yet as 
Orgar was then alive, and indeed survived him ten 
years, he was considered, and with good reason, its 

Ordulph was a religious and devout man, and 
rising one night, as was his custom, went out of 
doors to offer up his prayers. There is something so 
remarkable in this, (since many of the Druidical 
temples, we know, were used as places of worship 
with the early Christians, and on that account were 
long afterwards held sacred) that it would almost 
lead one to suspect that some vestige of this nature 
was the favourite resort of Ordulph for the purposes 
of his midnight devotion. Whilst engaged in the 
act of prayer he beheld in a vision a glory that 


i ■ 

384 ORDULPH'S VISION. [let. 

seemed to reach from earth to heaven, surpassing the 
brilliancy of the sun; and he thought on the goodness 
of God, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, 
and who led forth the children of Israel by day with 
the pillar of the cloud, and by night with that of fire. 
Struck with awe at this miraculous appearance, 
Ordulph again retired to rest, and after shedding 
many tears sleep closed his eyes, and he beheld in a 
dream a 'shadow like an angel,' whose countenance 
was of exceeding brightness, and who accosted him 
with the words — ' Ne timeas, vir Deo dilecte! The 
spirit then commanded him to rise and erect an 
oratory on the place where he had seen the glory, 
and where he should find four rods fixed at right 
angles, to the honour of the four evangelists, who 
had, as on a four-wheeled chariot, spread the word 
of the gospels throughout the world. On the fulfil- 
ment of this command, the angelic messenger pro- 
mised him the forgiveness of his sins. 

Starting from sleep, Ordulph related the vision to 
his wife, who affirmed that she had seen the like; 
and after saying his prayers' devoutly on his knees, 
he once more composed himself to rest. But the 
same angelic figure appeared to each a second time, 
and rebuked the husband for his delay ; telling him 
that to obey was better than sacrifice. And the 
same visitation being a third time repeated on the 
same night, Ordulph no longer hesitated. Rising 
therefore early in the morning, and reverently making 
the sign of the cross, he entered a neighbouring wood, 
where he found the precise spot that had been re- 
vealed to him, by the four rods. It was pleasant, 
open, and every way suited for the purpose ; and 
there he soon raised an oratory, on the western side 


of which he afterwards founded a very magnificent 
monastery to the honour of Mary, the mother of God, 
and St. Rumon, and so large as to receive a thousand 
men. To this he added several other houses for the 
service of the monks, and at length he richly endowed 
it. 2 This noble abbey completed, Prince, the author 
of the Worthies of Devon, says,' " He filled it with 
Augustine friars, afterwards, from their habit > called 
black monks." In this, as we shall presently see, Prince 
must confound the Augustines, who first inhabited it, 
with the Benedictines who soon after took their place ; 
since in the earliest times the former Order were dis- 
tinguished by white habits, though a black mantle 
was long after allowed to them ; whereas the Bene- 
dictines, from their very foundation, were clad entirely 
in black. 

Ordulph is represented to have been of gigantic 
stature, and prodigious strength. Travelling towards 
Exeter with King Edward the Confessor, to whom 
he was related, when they came to the gates of the 
city they found them locked and barred, while the 
porter, knowing nothing of their coming, was absent. 
Upon this Ordulph, leaping off his horse, took the 
bars in his hands, and with great apparent ease broke 
them in pieces, at the same time pulling out part of 
the wall. Not content with this, he gave a second 
proof of his strength ; for, breaking the hinges with 
his foot, he laid the gates open. Whilst those who 
witnessed this extraordinary feat could not suppress 
their admiration, the king, pretending to underrate 

2 With the manors of Tavistock, Midleton (now Milton), Hather- 
leigh, Borington, Leghe, Dunethem, Chuvelin, Linkinhorn; and his 
wife with the manors of Hame, Werelgete, Orlege, Auri, Rame, 
Savyoke, Pannaston, Tornbire, Colbroke, Lege, Wesithetun, and 

vol. 1. 2 C 

386 TOMB OF ORDULPH. [let. 

his prowess, declared it must have been done by the 
sole power of the devil, and not by the strength of 
man. However wonderful this story may appear, it 
is not more so than what William of Malmesbury 
relates of him in another particular — that he was of 
such gigantic stature, that for his amusement he 
would often bestride a river, near his residence, of 
ten feet broad ; and with his knife would chop off 
the heads of such wild animals as were brought to 
him, and so cast them into the stream. 

But notwithstanding the superiority of his strength 
and stature, Ordulph died in the flower of his age. 
He gave orders to be buried at his abbey at Herton, 
in Dorsetshire ; but was interred in or near the 
Abbey Church of Tavistock, where a mausoleum or 
tomb of vast dimensions was erected to his memory, 
which is represented to have been visited as a wonder. 
Prince, in his Worthies of Devon, says, " There is 
nothing now remaining of it but an arch, where, as 
tradition testifies, this mighty tomb stood." 3 

An arch still remains in tolerable preservation on 
the site of what, there is every reason to believe, had 
been part of the Abbey Church. It bears evidently 

3 "Browne Willis tells us, that in his time the sepulchral effigies 
of this Saxon giant, of great length, were still preserved by lying 
under an arch in the north side of the cloisters of the Abbey Church. 
This identical arch, as I apprehend, still remains a solitary remnant of 
the immediate appendages of the Abbey Church. The architecture of 
this recess is of the time of Henry III. And as there is no example 
extant which can lead us to conclude that sepulchral figures were placed 
over tombs in the middle ages, till the twelfth century, and as it was 
usual to re-edify and remodel the monuments of saints and remarkable 
persons, (of which custom the shrine of Edward the Confessor, now in 
Westminster Abbey, is a prominent example) Ordulph *s tomb, per- 
haps, underwent a renovation about this period, and was supplied 
with a sepulchral effigy." — Notices of Tavistock and its Abbey. By A. J. 
Kempe, f.s.a. 


the appearance of a shrine, or sepulchral monument ; 
consisting of a rich and highly-relieved moulding, 
supported by three short pillars at either extremity. 
It is pointed at the top, but spreading, and being 
closed, or built so as to form part of a wall, is crossed 
just above the capitals of the columns by a range of 
small arches, supported also themselves by a row of 
little pillars on a kind of plinth. 

Though Mr. Bray is rather inclined to consider 
this the tomb of Ordulph, it is generally denominated 
Childe's tomb. And as the story of the latter person, 
if not true, is at least curious, I shall not scruple to 
introduce it here. 

Having no children of his own, and being the last 
of his house, which was of ancient standing in the 
county, Childe of Plymstock is said to have made a 
will, wherein he devised his lands to that church in 
which he should happen to be buried. Some time 
after, whilst recreating himself with hunting in the 
Forest of Dartmoor, he lost both his way and his 
company, during an inclement season, in a very deep 
snow. Being surrounded by desolation, and seeing 
no possible means of escape, he began to think what 
was to be done to keep life and soul together; and as 
in his day the acts and miraculous adventures of the 
clergy and the saints were much talked of, it is not 
impossible he might have called to mind one recorded 
of Elsinus, the Saxon Bishop of Worcester, when 
crossing the Alps to receive his pall from the hands 
of the Pope. Be this as it may, he determined to 
take up the same kind of lodging the saint and bishop 
was said to have done ; and so killing his horse, and 
embowelling him on the spot, old Childe crept into 
the body for the purpose of procuring a little warmth 



in his distress. But the expedient had not saved a 

saint, how then could it be expected to preserve a 

sinner? Finding his last hour approach, Childe, in 

order to confirm his will, took some of his own blood, 

(though one would have thought it was more likely 

to have been that of his horse) and made the following 

distich in writing; though how he procured pen or 

paper to do so this wonderful record has forgotten to 

tell :— 

"He that finds and brings me to my tomb, 
My land of Plymstock shall be his doom." 4 

Now whatever modern critics may think of the 
rhyme, it soon appeared that the monks of Tavistock 
found there was reason in it ; and good reason, too, 
that they should constitute themselves the heirs of 
old Childe ; for soon hearing that he was frozen to 
death somewhere near Crockern Tor, they set their 
wits and hands to work to give him as speedily as 
possible an honourable sepulchre. 

But as the heirship was left thus vague and open to 
competition, there were others who thought themselves 
quite as much, if not more, entitled to succeed than 
the friars ; and these were the good people of Plym- 
stock, in whose parish the lands in question had their 
standing ; and though not invited to the funeral, yet, 
out of respect to the old gentleman or more probably 
to his acres, they not only determined to invite them- 
selves, but also to try how far club-law might settle 

4 Prince says, in the Worthies, "Now something in confirmation 
hereof I find, that there is a place in the Forest of Dartmoor, near 
Crockern Tor, which is still called Childe of Plymstock's tomb ; where- 
on, we are informed, these verses were engraven, and heretofore seen, 
though not now : 

'• ' They first that find, and bring me to my grave, 

My lands, which are at Plymstock, they shall have.' " 


the heirship in their favour ; and so, taking their post 
at a certain bridge over which they conceived the 
corpse must of necessity, be carried, they came to 
the resolution to wrest the body out of the hands of 
the holy men by force, if no better settlement of the 
matter could be effected. 

The friars, however, were men of peace, and had 
no mind, may be, to take up any weapon sharper 
than their wits; since, as Dr. Fuller says, when 
speaking of this adventure, " they must rise betimes, 
or rather not go to bed at all, that will overreach 
the monks in matters of profit ;" for these cunning 
brothers, apprehensive of losing their precious relics, 
cast a slight bridge over the river at another place, 
and thus, crossing with the corpse, left the men of 
Plymstock the privilege of becoming, very sincerely, 
the chief mourners, whilst they interred old Childe in 
their own Abbey Church, and according to his last 
will took possession of his lands. 

It is certain that the Abbot of Tavistock enjoyed 
considerable property at Plymstock, which is now in 
the possession of the Duke of Bedford ; and Fuller 
states that, in memory of this successful stratagem 
on the part of the monks, the bridge raised in or near 
the spot in Tavistock bears the name of Guile Bridge 
to the present day. It is, however, now more com- 
monly known by the name of the Abbey Bridge. 
Childe is supposed to have lived in the reign of 
Edward the Third. 

The Abbey, with its church, was dedicated to St. 
Mary the Holy Virgin, and St. Rumon ; the parish 
church, to St. Eustachius. The arms of the Abbey 
were gules, two crosiers saltire ways between two 
martlets or, in a chief argent three mullets sable. 

39<> ST. RUMON. [let. 

The arms of Orgar were, according to one authority, 
verrey B. and arg., in chief or two mullets gules. 
According to another, verrey B. and arg., in chief 
arg. three mullets sable. This latter coat, impaled 
with the arms of the Abbey of Tavistock, was, in the 
time of Prince, painted in a glass window of the 
dining-room at the Bear Inn, Exeter. Though little 
of a herald, I am thus particular, as, in the groined 
ceiling to the porch of what was formerly the Abbot's 
hall (says Mr. Bray, from whose papers I have gleaned 
the above particulars) the latter arms, surrounded 
with a wreath, are still discernible, cut in granite, 
and forming one of the key-stones ; while, on the 
other, in a lozenge, is represented a dove with a cross 
on its breast. 

Respecting St. Rumon, to whom, with the Virgin, 
the Abbey Church was dedicated, I find the following 
notice in the account by my brother, Alfred Kempe, 
before mentioned. 

" Leland found a MS. life of Rumon in Tavistock 
Abbey at the time of the suppression of monasteries. 
He appears by this work to have been one of many 
saints who emigrated from Ireland into Cornwall in 
the fifth or sixth century, for the purpose of enjoying 
the deepest seclusion, and to have erected for himself 
an oratory in what the author terms a Nemaean forest, 
formerly a most frequented haunt of wild beasts. This, 
according to the MS., was at Falmouth, where he died 
and was buried; but the fame of his sanctity still sur- 
viving, Ordulph, on completing the monastery at 
Tavistock, was induced to remove his bones from 
their resting-place, and to enshrine them in the 
Abbey Church, where they became an object of 
ignorant devotion. William of Malmesbury seems 

xxii.] ST. RUMON. 391 

to lament that the miracles of Rumon, in common 
with those of many other saints, owing to the violent 
hostility of subsequent times, remained unrecorded. 
No doubt this hiatus was amply supplied in the 
volume found by Leland, and the labours of one 
who perhaps was really a zealous and fearless pro- 
pagator of Christianity in the primitive times, were 
converted into a series of ascetic mortifications, 
degrading to reason, and worse than useless to 
society, while his sanctity became attested by the 
detail of miracles more absurd than the wildest of 
the Arabian Tales. Of the reputed saints, however, 
many were really such in their day; heroic soldiers, 
like St. Paul, of Christ's church militant on earth, 
in perils and persecutions; but the purity of their 
doctrines becoming obscured during temporal con- 
vulsions, the monks issued from their scriptoria 
new versions of their lives, which suited their own 
purposes for the time, but have had the effect in these 
enlightened days of clouding the memory of holy men 
with much of doubt and incredulity." 

The Abbey of Tavistock being thus finished, 
dedicated, and endowed, in the year 981 King 
Ethelred, the son of Elfrida, confirmed and granted 
to it many considerable privileges, making it free 
from all secular services excepting rates for military 
expeditions, and the repair of bridges and castles. 
" In the preamble to this instrument he laments 
that certain persons, stained with infidelity, had 
been allowed, without his consent, (he being, as it 
might be said, in an infant and powerless state, not 
more than twenty years of age) to drive the monks 
of Tavistock from their sacred places and possessions. 
This stain of infidelity was, I apprehend, nothing 

392 ETHELRED'S CHARTER. [let. xxii. 

more than a disbelief in the sanctity of monachism, 
and the expulsion of the monks from Church bene- 
fices, in which they were replaced by the much more 
deserving secular clergy." Such are my brother's 
remarks ; but we shall hereafter see that, in all 
probability, the expulsion thus alluded to by Ethel- 
red had reference to the Augustine friars, who were 
so soon turned out of the very Abbey in which they 
had been placed by Orgar and Ordulph. What I 
have to say on the subject must, however, be reserved 
for another letter. 

Ethelred's charter (witnessed by his mother, Queen 
Elfrida, and the Archbishop of Canterbury) em- 
powered our Tavistock monks to choose their own 
abbot, and contained the following severe penalty on 
any one who should presume to alienate any part of 
the privileges thus granted and confirmed. 

" If any seduced with the madness of covetousness 
shall presume to infringe this our munificence, let 
him be driven from the communion of Christ's 
Church, and from any participation of the body and 
blood of the Son of God ; let him stand at last with 
the traitor Judas on the left hand ; and, unless he 
repents and makes satisfaction, let the vile apostate 
never be forgiven, either in this life, or in that to 
come ; but let him be thrust down, with Ananias 
and Sapphira, to the bottom of hell, where let him 
be tormented for ever. Amen." 

Aimer, a Saxon, was chosen the first abbot ; and 
I shall presently give a list of all the abbots, down 
to the Reformation. Something must now be said 
of the order of monks who were appointed to the 
Abbey about the time that Ethelred granted his 



Dunstan living at the time of building the Abbey — Algarus removed 
from the See of Crediton — Dunstan's views respecting the Benedic- 
tines — His power and craft — Orgar in his office of Earl a coadjutor 
of Algarus in the Shiregemot Court — The Benedictines — Their 
great learning — Literature benefited by them — Learning fearfully 
assailed — Its preservation and revival — Liturgies — The Bible — Bene- 
dictines, their great Works — Brief account of St. Benedict — Interview 
between him and Totila, King of the Goths — His Prophecy fulfilled 
— The Cross; its beauty in form — Crosses frequently met with in 
the West — The imposing nature of Abbeys and Monastic buildings 
— Their moral grandeur — Blind zeal led to their destruction — Abbey 
Walls of Tavistock — Their beautiful situation — St. John's; the 
Hermitage of the olden time — Reflections suggested by an evening 
Walk on the Banks of the Tavy under the Abbey Walls. 

Vicar age, Tavistock, August is/, 1832. 

It is not unworthy observation that about the time 
of the building of Tavistock Abbey, Dunstan, that 
crafty churchman of miracle-lying memory, by his 
exertions removed Algarus from the see of Crediton, 
after he had held it ten years, to make way for 
Alfodus, a friend of his own, who there remained 
bishop during seventeen years, when he died. What 
motive could have prompted Dunstan to desire the 
removal of Algarus is not ascertained ; but it may, I 
think, be inferred with a nearer approach to certainty 
than generally accompanies conjecture. 


> ' 

394 DUNSTAN. [let. 

The power which that ambitious primate had ac- 
quired over the mind of the licentious Edgar is too 
well known to need much notice here ; the king was, 
in fact, in all ecclesiastical matters, no more than an 
instrument to forward the artful and grasping designs 
of Dunstan. Assured of royal countenance, he soon 
put in execution the tyrannical schemes which he had 
so long formed to establish celibacy as a law with the 
clergy, to expel or convert them into monks, and to 
render those monks Benedictines : a rule that was 
dependent on himself, and would help to carry on 
his plans throughout the kingdom. Dunstan, more- 
over, had been the first abbot of Glastonbury, a 
monastery built, endowed, and filled by him with 
Benedictines ; an order of which Fuller (in the spirit 
of pleasantry he so constantly mingles with the most 
excellent sense) says, " they now began to swarm in 
England, more than maggots in a hot May, so 
incredible was their increase.' , 

No sooner had Edgar succeeded to the throne of 
his unfortunate brother Edwy, than the primate pro- 
cured Oswald and Ethelwald to be promoted to the 
sees of Worcester and Winchester, as ecclesiastics 
avowedly devoted to the grand object of forwarding 
by every means the advancement of the Benedictine 
rule ; and he hesitated not to remove or persecute any 
of the clergy who offered the least resistance to his 
will. When we recollect these things, we need not 
look far to find a very probable motive for the removal 
of Algarus from the see of Crediton. Nor can I 
help fancying that, by inference at least, this motive 
may be yet further developed, and that it was not 
other than connected with the Order of monks in our 

xxiii.] ALGARUS. 395 

Orgar, Earl of Devon, in the very nature of his 
office could not but be in some measure acquainted 
with Algarus; since, as Bishop of Crediton, the latter 
must have taken his seat with the earl of the county 
in the Shiregemot Court. Now, at the time Orgar 
contemplated building and endowing his Abbey on 
the banks of the Tavy, might he not have consulted 
with Algarus respecting the Order of monks he should 
place in it ? For if Prince be correct in his statement 
(and there is no reason to think he was otherwise, as 
he chiefly followed that excellent antiquary Risdon) 
our Abbey was at first peopled with A ugustine canons : x 
though according to Dugdale such Order could not 
have been then of long continuance ; for Tavistock 
Abbey was founded in 961, and Dugdale cites a 
charter of the reign of Ethelbert, dated 981, giving 
the monks therein power to choose their own abbot, 
in which they are expressly stated to be of the Bene- 
dictine rule. The same learned writer tells us, that 
Edgar in 964 made it his boast that he had endowed 
not less than forty-seven monasteries of that Order in 
his kingdom. Our Abbey, it will be recollected, was 
commenced three years before this ; and was endowed 
by Orgar, not by Edgar. 

When we consider the boast on the part of the 
king, we see how friendly he was to the monks whom 
Fuller compares to the 'maggots in a hot May/ 
And when we consider also Dunstan's determination 
to have all the monks Benedictines, the Augustine 
canons of Tavistock were tolerably sure of being 
turned out. And the removal of Algarus (in whose 

1 The Augustine Order seems to have been a favourite one with the 
family of the Earl of Devon ; for his daughter, Queen Elfrida, peopled 
her convents of Warwelle and Amblesbury with Augustine Nuns. 

396 DUNSTAN. [let. 

diocese they were) by the interference of Dunstan, 
leads me to suspect that the bishop was, in some way 
or other, an obstacle to this change of the Order ; or 
he might at first have prevailed with Orgar to make 
choice of the Augustines, which suited not with the 
plans and intrigues of Dunstan ; for we cannot doubt 
that with his views, an abbey endowed on so large a 
scale as Tavistock (to hold a thousand men) and by 
so great a benefactor as Orgar, must have been a 
foundation worth fntriguing for on the part of the 
primate, who sought to extend his own power by 
peopling, if it were possible, every monastery with 
those Benedictines who were so entirely subservient 
to his will. 2 

His character renders these conjectures (and they 
are only offered as conjectures) the more likely; 
since, with the exception of Wolsey, there is not, 
perhaps, in the ecclesiastical history of this country, 
so deeply designing, or so far-sighted a prelate as 
Dunstan. " Becket," says the Book of the Church, had 
a " daring spirit, a fiery temper, and a haughty heart," 
loved power, and pursued his ends by means suffi- 

* The dislike which Queen Elfrida, and her son Ethelred, entertained 
for Dunstan is well known ; and so far had it extended that, at one 
time, there was the queen's party, and the archbishop's, in the State. 
"Elfrida" (says Turner in his History of the Anglo-Saxons) "was as 
ambitious as Dunstan, and therefore became his rival. She joined the 
party of the clergy, and endeavoured to bias the minds of the great in 
.favour of her son Ethelred." This was before he succeeded to the 
throne by her murder of Edward the Martyr. It is therefore the more 
probable that Ethelred's complaint, in the preamble of his charter, 
about the monks being turned out of their possessions in Tavistock 
Abbey, referred to the previous removal of the Augustine canons. 
Some years after this event, the Abbey being thus finished and en- 
dowed, King Ethelred, grandson of the founder, confirmed and granted 
to it many considerable privileges, making it free from all secular 
services, those before named excepted. 


ciently proud and overbearing. But the high tone 
with which he maintained the dignity of the priest- 
hood, as, with his crosier in his hand, he met Henry 
face to face, — presenting before him that pastoral 
emblem of a servant of the Good Shepherd, as arms 
placed in his hands by God Himself, to command 
even the respect of kings — inspires a feeling of ad- 
miration which true magnanimity will always awaken 
in a generous breast ; and was far different from the 
mean compliances with the king's vices, the frauds 
and the hypocrisy, of Dunstan. Those mean com- 
pliances were apparent when he enjoined on Edgar a 
mock penance for the flagrantly immoral actions of 
his life: since his penances were no weightier than 
that the king was not to wear his crown for a certain 
space of time, and was to fast during certain days. 
And most truly did he turn even the king's sins to 
his own profit, when above all other things he recom- 
mended that the royal penitent, as an atonement for 
them, should persecute the married clergy might and 
main, expel them, and set up the Benedictine rule 
throughout the land. Assuredly the acts of Dunstan 
witness for him that his intercourse with the devil was 
no fiction, though it may be questioned if it were 
not in a more friendly way than that of taking him 
by the nose. 

However, to the praise of the Benedictines be it 
spoken, their Order, from the earliest times to the 
latest, was favourable to learning. And as any his- 
tory of our Abbey would be very imperfect did it 
not give some account of the rule which prevailed 
in it for so ma^y centuries, instead of offering any 
excuses for here introducing it I should have to 
apologize did I omit it : more especially as it will be 

I f 

398 LITERATURE. [let. 

found, in the sequel, that our Tavistock monks have 
the honour of being connected with the art of print- 
ing in its earliest age; and, indeed, as Benedictine 
brothers, may be classed with those who assisted in 
the preservation and revival of letters. 

Though foreign wars have occasionally been the 
means of spreading literature, or of bringing it with 
profit home, yet nothing, it is universally allowed, 
is so injurious to its immediate interests, as the 
revolutions and civil brawls of political states. Very 
different from the first position, however, was the 
invasion of Italy ; when Rome being sacked by the 
Goths, in the time of Honorius, and the whole 
country subsequently conquered by Odoacer, com- 
pleted the ruin of that celebrated empire, second 
only to Greece as the fertile mother of genius and 
the nursery of learning. 

Learning, though fearfully assailed and at last 
overthrown in the empire of the West, was saved 
from total extinction by the followers of the Christian 
Church. It has been well remarked by an intelligent 
but anonymous writer on the subject of its decay, 
that whilst a ' Gothic tempest* would have swept from 
Europe the arts and the written wisdom of antiquity, 
one thing contributed to save them from total de- 
struction, though that was in itself a bad thing — 
'superstition.' For the barbarous hordes of the 
North entertained so great a dread of their idolatrous 
gods, that it inspired them with a fear and deference 
for their priesthood ; and this feeling in some measure 
accompanied them even into foreign countries, and 
was now and then evinced towards t^e ministers of a 
foreign religion ; so that the monastery (and would 
that the Danes had done the same in England at 

xxiii.] THE FATHERS. 399 

a subsequent period !) was sometimes spared, when 
palaces were sacked and committed to the flames. 

In the primitive ages of Christianity, learning was 
alone cultivated by the Fathers of the Church ; and 
the writings of such men as St. Chrysostom, Au- 
gustine, Gregory Nazianzen, Cyprian, and others, 
independent of the great truths they inculcate, were 
of that feeling and poetic order of eloquence which 
ranks them next to the prophets and the apostles, 
and shows that the writers were filled with a large 
portion of the Holy Spirit, so abundantly poured 
forth in the early ages of the Church. Their disciples 
followed in their path ; and whilst the barbarities 
of the Northern conquerors had spread around a 
darkness which, to the human soul, was as 'thick 
night,' light was only to be found in the cell of the 
Christian scholar; whose lonely lamp, as it glimmered 
on the shores of some placid sea, was a guiding star 
to the weary and persecuted of the Church, where 
religion and learning, those twins of peace and love, 
reposed like the dove of David far away from the 
stormy winds and the tempest. 

That not only the sacred writings, but such of the 
classics as have come down to us, were preserved in 
the monasteries, is a fact so universally known that 
nothing more than here to notice it need be said upon 
the subject. The Benedictines, from the seventh to 
the last century, were employed in those labours that 
have made the learned of all times their debtors. 
And amongst many excellent works, one of the most 
valuable sent by them into the world in modern days, 
is an edition of St. Chrysostom, edited by Mont- 
faucon, with the assistance of other members of the 
same community. 





The Benedictine Order had its origin with Benedict, 
i an Italian, who, about the end of the fifth century, 

first attracted notice on account of his talents and 
his worth. He is generally considered to have been 
the son of a peasant, though some writers have 
affirmed that his father was of a noble house. Be 
this as it may, his zeal for religion and good morals 
proved that he was possessed of that true nobility of 
mind which, as an old writer says, "hath its patent 
from God Himself, and needeth no earthly addition." 
Benedict, on conversing with young men of his own 
age, felt so shocked at observing the licentiousness of 
their manners, that he retired from the world, and 
shut himself up in a cavern, where no one, saving an 
old monk, knew of his retreat At length he was 
induced to converse with the monks belonging to the 
community of his friend ; and so much were they 
edified by listening to his devout discourses, that they 
spread his fame far and near; and after a while he 
was requested to leave his cave, and become superior 
of a monastery in the neighbourhood. 

Sacrificing his love of solitude for the hope of 
being useful to others, Benedict accepted the office, 
but resolved, should he be disappointed in his ex- 
pectations, that the old cavern should once more 
become his home. The monks over whom he now 
presided in their religious exercises, fell far short of 
the ideas he had formed of devotional perfection ; 
he liked not their manners, and they liked not his 
discipline, and so they speedily parted on less happy 
terms than they had met. According to those chroni- 
clers who celebrated the lives of the saints, the power 
of working miracles was now added to all his other 
extraordinary endowments ; and this power drew 

xxiii.] ST. BENEDICT. 401 

around him a multitude of followers and disciples. 
It is to be supposed they supplied him amply with 
this world's goods ; since, unless he did it by miracle, 
Benedict erected by his own means many monas- 
teries, and placed in them persons who were more 
willing than the monks had been to follow his rule ; 
and even some of the nobles brought to him their 
children, that they might receive such an education 
as he should direct. 

Imitating the manner of life practised by the holy 
apostles, Benedict travelled into several kingdoms, 
preaching the gospel, and confirming the truth of its 
doctrine by many marvellous works. In the country 
of the Samnites he overthrew the altar of Apollo, 
destroyed the statue of that god, cut down his grove, 
and erected an oratory in the place where the heathen 
temple had stood ; but so numerous were the persons 
who wished to devote themselves to his way of life, 
that he found it necessary to turn his oratory into a 
monastery, of which he now became the chief, and 
thus established on a more permanent footing that 
rigid Order which ever after bore his name. 

Benedict was not the only saint of his family ; his 
sister, to whom he was exceedingly attached, being 
no less celebrated for piety than himself. She was a 
nun, and one day only in the year did these near 
relatives indulge themselves with any pleasure so 
allied to earthly feelings as that of the interchange of 
fraternal affection. During an interview of this de- 
scription, whilst Benedict, attended by his disciples, 
was about to retire, after having preached and prayed 
from his cell, his sister threw herself on her knees 
before him, and begged him to tarry another day ; 
but her brother told her that the rule of his Order did 

VOL. I. 2D 


402 TOTILA. [let. 

not allow him to pass one night beyond the walls of 
the monastery of which he was the chief. She then, 
in a fit of passionate sorrow, supplicated God to grant 
her patience and resignation, as she felt assured that 
she should never more behold her most beloved friend. 
Benedict endeavoured to console her ; and though he 
refused compliance with her request a sudden and 
violent storm which ensued caused some delay in 
his departure. At last he went : great however was 
his grief when, soon after his return to the monas- 
tery, he received the information that his sister was 
dead — so speedily had her own prediction been 
fulfilled. He caused her body to be removed to 
the tomb that he had prepared for himself, in order 
that his ashes might hereafter mingle with hers in the 
same grave. 

Another striking story is recorded of Benedict re- 
specting his interview with the fierce Totila/King of 
the Goths. So great was the reputation of the saint, 
that the barbarian prince entertained a wish to see 
him, and the more so as he understood that Benedict 
possessed the gift of prophecy, and he hoped to learn 
from him some intelligence of his future destiny. The 
king was struck with awe on beholding the venerable 
aspect of the saint, and he who had never before 
humbled himself in the presence of mortal fell at the 
feet of the recluse, who had nothing about him to 
excite terror excepting that air of authority with 
which, as a prophet of God, he looked upon the king 
and reproached him for his cruel victories. Totila, 
alarmed but not converted, struggled with feelings so 
new to him and so embarrassing; and determining, 
let what would be the event, he would inquire of this 
man of God his future fate, received, in reply to those 




inquires, the following brief prediction : " You will 
enter Rome ; you will pass the sea ; nine years a 
crown is yours, but the tenth that crown shall be 
given to death." This warning was said to be strictly 
fulfilled, for Totila died in the tenth year after he had 
entered the city of Rome. Many are the legends 
told of St. Benedict No doubt he was a remarkable 
person ; and the great object, both of his rule and of 
his life, was to bring into a more moral government 
the then existing orders of monachism. He had also 
the good sense to recommend the cultivation of letters 
to all who devoted themselves to religious retirement. 
Such was the man who founded the order of the 

In this neighbourhood we often meet in our walks 
and rides, in many a solitary spot, a rude and ancient 
cross; some so ancient that we are inclined to con- 
sider them as having been set up by the earliest 
converts to Christianity in this part of England. 



When we meet with a vestige of this description in 
the vast desolation of Dartmoor, or in the midst of 
the rural scenes of wood and water that abound in 
Devon, near the village or the antique church, how 
many delightful thoughts and feelings arise in the 
breast of him who views it in its relation to past 
times and holy men ! Yes, those who reverence 
antiquity, who love knowledge as the friend of all 
that is noble and good — of all that makes life pleasant, 
and time as a field that if carefully cultivated will 
find its harvest in eternity, will look with an eye of 
deep interest on such venerable records of the past : 
even the rudest emblem of the cross will not be met 
with in vain. 

Well would it have been with those who conducted 
the great Reformation had they been content to 
repair rather than to overturn. And how good it is 
to preserve temper in all things may be learned from 
the example of St. Paul, who, when he saw the altar 
dedicated by the Greeks to the ' Unknown God,' 
did not overthrow it, but Him whom they ignorantly 
worshipped truly taught them to understand ; thus 
showing that a heathen altar, from which the false 
fires of idolatry had arisen, was as capable as the 
altar of Abraham of becoming a place of sacrifice 
to the Father of truth. 

How often, as I have wandered under the Abbey 
walls, that now form the boundary of our own garden 
and looked on the romantic and beautiful scene that 
was before me, have I fancied I could see it, animated 
with human beings, as it must have appeared in other 
times. These walls were spared during the general 
destruction ; their massiveness and the roughness of 
their stone were not improbably their protection. 



They are even now nearly perfect; and in the quarter 
towards the Abbey Bridge appear lofty and battle- 
mented. A tower called the Still-house, in one part 
stands forward and breaks the uniformity of the long 
line of wall, so beautifully hung with ivy. A raised 
causeway lies between these walls and the river, and 
affords a walk so delightful, that it may truly be 
termed the Abbey terrace. 

Immediately below this causeway flows the rapid 
Tavy, over vast masses of rock that here and there 
divide the current of the waters, and form them into 
many picturesque and low falls, white and dazzling 

with foam. On the opposite hill, beautifully diver- 
sified by trees, some of which droop their branches 
into the passing waters, once stood a cell, the 
Hermitage of St. John. Of this no memorial is 
now left, excepting a spring of the purest kind, but 

406 WELL OF ST. JOHN. [let. 

the spot is still called by its ancient name ; no doubt 
this was the sacred fountain dedicated to John the 
Baptist. There is a record, preserved with the parish 
documents, consisting of an old inventory of the 
treasury of Tavistock church, in which it appears 
that a hermit left his silver crucifix, inclosing a piece 
of the true cross, to our church. In all probability 
the recluse who made this bequest was the hermit 
of St. John. 

As you have already read of tJie Walk (as it is 
called) under our Abbey walls, in Fitzford, I do 
not here enter upon more minute particulars, lest it 
should come to you as a tale twice told. I shall only 
therefore add that, looking to the east, the Guile 
Bridge and the distant heights of Dartmoor, inter- 
sected by some trees that grow at the foot of the 
hill beyond the bridge, close a scene of beauty seldom 
found so near a populous town in any part of England. 
As the walls I have mentioned formed the boundary 
of the Abbot's garden, and there was, and yet remains, 
a portal which stands near the Still-house, opening 
upon the Walk, I am disposed to think it might have 
been used by the holy brothers, whenever they wished 
to sally forth and enjoy the cool air from the river in 
their hours of recreation. The river alone separated 
them from the precincts of the Hermitage, a view of 
which they commanded from this walk. 

I have often fancied, as I looked across the Tavy, 
that I could see the Gothic oratory as it once ap- 
peared about the spring ; the roof which formerly 
overarched it, the sculptured image of the Baptist, in 
his raiment of camel's hair, as he stood in a niche 
above, pointing with his hand to the holy well be- 
neath, and holding in the other a staff with the banner 

xxiii.] WELL OF ST. JOHN. 407 

of the Agnus Dei. The crucifix, the hour-glass, and 
the skull appear on the rough-hewn table, and there 
kneels the venerable hermit, engaged in the office of 
his evening prayers ; as the * small birds ' twitter on 
the boughs around his cell, and seek their nest amid 
a canopy of leaves, whilst the setting sun casts over 
the whole scene a departing gleam that 'fires the 
proud tops ' of the Abbey towers and walls, or flashes 
on the rushing waters in meteor rays of light. The 
stillness of evening settles on all around ; not a human 
sound breaks the universal repose : the masses of 
rock, now seen only in their outline, assume a variety 
of dark and fantastic forms, as the constant murmur 
of the Tavy, that never ceases, seems to find its echo 
in the ' listening heart,' till, slowly flinging its sounds 
as the light of day withdraws over hill and vale and 
water, I am awakened from these thoughts of other 
times ; as (in the language of the poet, who has thus 
expressed it in a line of matchless beauty for its 
euphony) I listen, and 

" Hear the bell from the tower, toll ! toll ! through the silence 
of evening." 

These are 'thick coming fancies/ that steal upon 
the mind in hours of poetry and of feeling — but the 
reality is before me ; there lies the once holy, and the 
ever pure spring of St. John, unsheltered, open to the 
sunshine or the storm; those just emblems of the 
fortunes experienced by the departed guardians of 
this fountain. Oh ! thoughts like these, how do ye 
delight to pause on the shadowy or the mouldering 
records of former years ! How do ye whisper to one 
who welcomes you as sweet and pleasant friends ! that 
a few years more, and, over the name and the remem- 

, 1 4°8 WELL OF ST. JOHN. [let. xxih. 

brance of that one, oblivion shall roll her dark and 
rayless night, even as it is now falling, like a mantle, 
on these once stately towers. . But there is a memory 
in Heaven, and being a record of mercy, it can never 
be blotted out. Such is the comfort of all who feel 
" the weight of time and of eternity upon the spirit" 



Abbey burnt by the Danes — Hengist-down — Scene of a great Battle — 
Horse Bridge — Some conjectures concerning it — Wars during the 
Saxon Era — Saxon Princes of the West — Arthur, his career — Saxons 
and Danes — Their fierce contests near Tavistock — Adage respecting 
one of their Battles — The Danes ravage Tavistock; destroy the Abbey 
— It rises again — Its Benefactors — Livingus, its munificent Abbot 
— Brief notice of his History — His Death ; buried in the Abbey — 
Lands, Deeds, Privileges, Benefactions, Charters, &c. &c, conferred 
on the Abbey — Abbots grown rich ; Parish Priest so poor as to 
petition for a pair of Shoes — John Banham made a mitred Abbot — 
Anglo-Saxon Monasteries, their simplicity and piety — Benedictines, 
their Dress, &c. — Their Hospitality. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, August, 1832. 

AFTER having, in my former letters, traced the history 
of our Abbey from its foundation to its completion 
in the year 981, I have now to speak of the first 
severe shock it experienced by a change of fortune, 
for scarcely had this magnificent structure stood thirty 
years, ere the Danes became its ruin. 

The first appearance of those barbarians on our 
shores was about the close of the eighth century, 
when Brihtric reigned in Wessex. In the time of 
Egbert they pillaged the Isle of Sheppey, and soon 
after gained a great victory at Charmouth, in Dor- 
setshire ; where they murdered two bishops, and 
kept possession of their camp. But the greatest 
incursion in this part of the West was in 835. The 

410 HENGIST-DOWN. [let. 

Saxon Chronicle states, that a large fleet of these 
marauders came to the 'West Welsh* — the people 
of Cornwall — who united their forces with them, and 
made war on Egbert. The circumstance of the men 
of Cornwall thus joining heathens to carry arms into 
the territory of a Christian prince, may be considered 
a strong confirmation of the opinion that they still 
clung to the old superstitions of the ancient Britons, 
and were not yet converted to the truth. Egbert, 
when he heard of this alliance against him, " marched 
with an army " (says the same chronicle) " and fought 
with them at Hengist-dune, and there he put to flight 
both the Welsh and the Danes." 

Hengest-dune (now called Hengesdown* and some- 
times Hingston) is in our neighbourhood ; and not 
very far distant from it is Horse Bridge ; and I 
cannot help entertaining the conjecture that the hill 
where Egbert thus beat the forces combined against 
him derived its name from some battle fought long 
before his time, in the days of Vortigern, the British 
prince. I shall here state the reasons which have 
induced me to venture this conjecture. 

There is no record, that I am aware of, now in 
existence, by which we have any authority for saying 
that the Saxon brothers, Hengist and Horsa, when 
they visited this country and so cruelly massacred 
the Britons, were ever in this part of England. Yet 

1 There are several barrows on Hengist-down : one or two of which 
(says Mr. Carrington, jun., in the Devonport Guide) were opened a few 
years since. In one of them were found a human skull and several 
bones. A Druidical cell (corresponding in its appearance to those 
called by Davies 'arkite cells' of the bards) was also dug up on 
Hengist-down many years ago. Near Cothele, a narrow glen is still 
called Danes Combe ; the Danes having passed through it on their way 
to meet Egbert in battle. 

xxiv.] HENGIST-DOWN. 411 

the thing seems to me not improbable, nor impossible. 
The records of that time were very imperfect. The 
principal historian, Witichindus, a Saxon, might not 
have been acquainted with every minute circumstance 
of the period about which he wrote. And when we 
recollect how many monasteries in this country were 
afterwards burnt by the Danes, we cannot but con- 
clude that some chronicles or documents, that would 
have thrown much light on our early history, were 
consumed in the flames. 

It is so remarkable a circumstance that Hengist- 
down should lie not very far from Horse Bridge, 8 
that it is a strong temptation to fancy those places 
derived their names from Hengist and Horsa. Let 
it also be remembered that Vortigern (who leagued 
with those chiefs, and by his base treachery and in- 
trigues fixed the Saxon yoke on his countrymen) 
was earl or heretoge of Cornwall. The very station 
he held connected him more particularly with the 
Cornish Britons, and with the people of Devon : 
they were also numbered with those who made the 
longest and most vigorous resistance against the 
Saxon wolves; and though the greatest battle took 
place at Bampton, where the miserable Britons lost 
(according to the Saxon Chronicle) two thousand 
and forty-six of their bravest men, yet many battles 
were fought of less import, previous to that decisive 
engagement Might it not then be possible that 
one of these ' many battles ' was on the borders of 
Cornwall, where Vortigern, the base heretoge of 
that county, might even have guided Hengist and 

8 Horse Bridge is a beautiful object in a beautiful spot ; it crosses the 
river Tamar, that divides Cornwall and Devon. It is noticed by Baretti 
in his delightful letters. 


t , 

I » 

' t 

! : 


412 PRINCE ARTHUR. [let. 

Horsa ; and where each (the one on the hill, and the 
other at the pass of the river) might have achieved 
a minor victory; and so have left their names as 
memorials to those places ? — names that have sur- 
vived stone or brass, and still may point out to the 
local historian the scene of carnage and victory. 
How much light will even a name throw on a place, 
where it awakens a spirit of inquiry ! How pleasant 
is it to sit at a desk and settle about the site of 
battles, and the tyrants who fought them, a thousand 
years ago ! You will, I dare say, smile at my con- 
jectures; but I will endeavour yet further to show 
that they are not so wild as they might at first be 

That this part of England was the scene of many 
fierce engagements, long before the time of Egbert, 
is proved by historical facts. Encouraged by the 
success of Hengist, many Saxon adventurers crossed 
the seas, and eventually gained a footing in Britain. 
Amongst these was Cerdic, the founder of the West 
Saxon kingdom, who was opposed in his career by 
Aurelius Ambrosius, and the heroic Prince Arthur; 
whose virtues became so magnified by the bards, and 
his real actions so blended with those purely fabulous, 
that, like Hercules, he was rendered quite as much 
a god of mythology in Britain as that renowned and 
laborious hero was in Greece ; and who, likewise, 
received his divinity from the poets. 

That Arthur was an extraordinary prince, a light 
amidst darkness, cannot be doubted ; the very ex- 
travagance of his fame had in all probability its 
foundation in the enthusiasm and admiration he 
inspired amongst his countrymen ; for glory in a 
half-civilized nation is ever the result of actions 

xxiv.] t THE DANES IN CORNWALL. 413 

which so far surpass the capabilities of the ordinary 
race of men who witness them, that they attribute 
such achievements to some power more than human 
vested in the person of their hero, who speedily 
becomes their god. Such almost was Arthur with 
the Britons ; but whatever might have been his 
valour or his success, it appears he did not wholly 
subdue Cerdic, who after a struggle of several years 
conquered many of the western parts of this kingdom. 
His son Cynric succeeded to the throne of Wessex ; 
and his grandson Ceaulin won a great battle over the 
Britons in Gloucestershire, which so enabled him to 
enlarge the extent of his kingdom, that he added to it 
those, shires now called Somerset and Devon. 

Though the Saxons had gained thus far a perma- 
nent footing in England, yet we have seen by a vast 
number of facts that the Britons were ndt wholly 
subdued ; since Cornwall and the adjacent parts of 
Devon (in which no doubt Dartmoor on the borders 
of the latter was included) might still in a great 
measure be called their own. For many years a con- 
tinual warfare had been kept up between the Britons 
and Saxons, till Egbert, who succeeded Brihtric on 
the throne of Wessex in 801, after devoting his 
first cares to the welfare of his people, attempted 
the difficult task of reducing the ancient British 
chieftains to his obedience ; and the battle of Hengist- 
down was decisive, though he was not the aggressor 
in that contest. 

That the Danes made great havoc in these parts 
at a subsequent period is well known. They burnt 
the cathedral and palace of Launceston 3 in Cornwall, 

3 Authorities differ, some stating that Launceston was the place so 
burnt, and others Bodmin. 

414 DEATH OF ORGAR. [let. 

twelve miles from this town, which caused the bishop's 
see to be removed to St Germans ; and the ancient 
Norman church there built still remains a beautiful 
object in the eye of the antiquary and the artist. 
Lydford (of which more hereafter) was also burnt 
and ravaged ; and to this day in Tavistock we have 
the following tradition respecting the havoc they 
made here. After the Danes landed near Danescombe, 
and met with a repulse on Hengist-down, some of 
them escaped, crossed the Tamar, and surprised 
Tavistock, rushing into the town from a rugged hill 
by the side of the old Launceston road, in those days 
said to have been the only entrance from the West. 
The inhabitants, armed to a man, met them at the 
foot of the above-named hill ; and a great battle 
ensued, which gave rise to the old adage — 

" The blood which flowed down West Street 
Would heave a stone a pound weight." 

I am also informed (since I wrote my previous 
letters) that a tradition is still current in this place, 
which asserts that Okehampton Castle was a favourite 
residence with Orgar, Earl of Devon. Not having 
had an opportunity of acquainting myself with the 
history of that castle, (whose singular and romantic 
ruins I have seen with admiration) I cannot say how 
far this is likely to be false or true; though when 
that tradition adds, as it does, that Orgar was residing 
there at the period Tavistock Abbey was burnt by 
the Danes, we know by chronological records it must 
be incorrect ; as he died twenty years before the con- 
flagration took place. Two or three forts at the 
mouth of the Tamar, nearly opposite Mount Edg- 
cumbe, I am assured are considered to have been 

xxiv.] RAVAGES BY THE DANES. • 415 

very ancient constructions ; and were most probably 
intended to protect the coast from the incursions of 
these foreign marauders. 

It was in the year 997 that a Danish fleet, under 
the command of Sweyn, entered the Severn ; and 
after numerous successful depredations, sailed round 
the Land's End, and finally turned its course up the 
Tamar. Though these invaders then burnt Lydford, 
they must have quitted their ships many miles dis- 
tant from that most ancient town ; since never at any 
period could the Tamar have been navigable higher 
than New Bridge, three miles from Tavistock. They 
carried fire and sword throughout the country; and 
our Abbey, but thirty-six years after its foundation, 
was plundered and burnt to the ground. The ma- 
rauders soon returned to their ships, laden with the 
spoil they had accumulated. 

Of the original building nothing perhaps remains, 
unless we except one portion of the boundary walls, 
(those of our garden) which must have been fire- 
proof, as there never was any lead or wood -work 
about them ; and the blocks of stone of which they 
are composed are held together with a cement so 
hard and admirable, that it appears to be like that 
seen in the stupendous walls of Pevensey Castle, the 
old Roman fortress on the Sussex coast. 

The Abbey, thus burnt and ravaged, though it 
remained for some time in ruins, was yet destined, 
like the fabled phcenix, to rise once more from its 
ashes. By whom it was rebuilt is not, I believe 
exactly known ; most probably not by an individual, 
but by many benefactors. Amongst these we may 
number Le Arcedekne, Vipont, Ferrars, Fitz-Bernard, 
Edgcumbe, and others. My brother considers that 

416 ' LIVINGUS. [let. 

its re-erection was probably owing to the exertions 
and liberality of Livingus, who was nephew to Brith- 
wald, Bishop of St. Germans, in Cornwall. This 
prelate is, indeed, so connected with the history of 
our Abbey, that it may not here be amiss to offer 
some brief account of him. 

Hooker and Prince reckon him amongst the illus- 
trious natives of this county ; and the latter is care- 
ful in distinguishing him from Livingus, surnamed 
Elstanus, Archbishop of Canterbury, who crowned 
Canute king of England, and died in 1020. 

Certain it is that the Abbey must have been re- 
erected in his time, and so far finished as to be 
capable of receiving the monks, since our Livingus 
was some time Abbot of Tavistock, and was advanced 
to the see of Devon in 1032. His palace stood at 
Crediton, and he was the last bishop who there 
resided during life. Canute valued him for his piety 
and wisdom ; and so much was he in favour with that 
king, that he made choice of the Bishop of Devon- 
shire as the companion of his journey to the tomb of 
St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome. Returning in the 
same year, 103 1, Livingus found his uncle, Brithwald, 
dead ; upon which Canute, from the great love he 
bore to the companion of his pilgrimage, gave him 
his late uncle's see of St. Germans, in Cornwall, 
allowing him still to hold Crediton, and not long 
after added to these dignities by making him Bishop 
of Worcester. 

It is not improbable that such a plurality of prelacies 
being heaped on the favourite excited discontent in 
those who aspired to church preferment, and who 
might think they were overlooked or neglected for 
the sake of one man, in their own opinion not more 

xxiv.] LIVINGUS. 417 

deserving than themselves. Hence might have arisen 
envy, the fertile mother of falsehood and slander ; 
and the worthy character of the prelate proved to be 
no security against the shafts aimed at him by such 
enemies as these : for he was charged by Alfricus, 
Archbishop of York, as being accessory to the death 
of Alfred, the eldest son of King Ethelred ; the 
archbishop having himself* been removed from his 
own see but a short time before, on account of his 
busy temper in secular affairs. 

Alfred's death had been brought about by many 
circumstances, that excited a general feeling of com- 
miseration for the unfortunate young prince. Canute, 
though he had engaged with the Duke of Normandy 
that his issue by his marriage with Emma should 
become his successors, nevertheless named Harold, the 
son of a former union, his heir to the crown, to the 
great discontent of the English ; who desired to see 
Hardicanute, a prince born among them, succeed to 
the throne. The jealousies of these contending 
parties ran so high, that a civil war was likely to be 
the result, when a present peace was secured by 
compromise. The terms were, that Harold should 
hold the provinces north of the Thames, and Hardi- 
canute keep those on the south, and during the 
absence of the last-named prince, his mother Emma 
assumed the regal authority in the place of her son. 

But however secure Harold might appear to be in 
his possessions, he thought himself not so whilst the 
sons of Emma by her former husband, Ethelred the 
Saxon, were in existence. Earl Godwin, from motives 
of ambition, had espoused the interests of Harold, and 
was kept firm to them by a hope being held out that 
his daughter should become the wife of that tyrant. 

vol. 1. 2 E 

418 LIVINGUS. [let. 

He did not hesitate, therefore, to join in the cruel plan 
now framed for the destruction of the young Saxon 
princes, who at this time were with their mother, 
Queen Emma, at Winchester ; and as some said with 
a view to attempt making good their pretensions to 
the crown. If Harold knew or only suspected their 
intentions is a matter of doubt ; but certain it is he 
invited Alfred, the eldei 7 brother, to London, with 
every promise of an honourable reception. Thus 
was he deceived ; and setting forward on his way, 
attended by many followers, had not proceeded 
farther than Guildford, in Surrey, when he was sur- 
prised by the treacherous Earl Godwin, his people 
slain, and himself, cruelly deprived of sight, committed 
as a prisoner to the monastery of Ely, where it pleased 
God to end his sufferings by a speedy death. 

This cruel deed appears to have excited a general 
feeling of indignation ; and it is not improbable that 
Alfricus might seek to gain his own restoration to 
the see of York, by paying court to the popular 
feeling; and to Harold, in the endeavour to fasten 
the guilt of the murder on another man, when the 
king was grievously suspected of being concerned in 
the act. A bishop who held three sees in his own 
person was not perhaps, he considered, the worst 
object he could fasten upon to make him appear 
criminal ; and the worthy Livingus was accordingly 
vehemently accused by the deposed archbishop. 
The affair must have been unusually prolonged, 
as not till the reign of Hardicanute did the artful 
Alfricus so far succeed as to obtain the dismissal 
of the innocent bishop from his preferments in the 
Church. This deprivation did not, however, last 
long. It is most probable that Livingus owed his 

xxiv.] LIVINGUS. 419 

restoration not so much to his want of guilt, for that 
was a poor plea against tyranny, as to the cunning 
and the contemptible conduct of the king ; for Har- 
dicanute, notwithstanding his wrath towards the 
murderers of his half-brother, was mean and base 
enough to accept a bribe (a gilded galley manned by 
rowers decorated with bracelets of gold) from Earl 
Godwin, who thus found an easy way to escape 
justice. In order to let him appear guilty, it was 
necessary to acquit Livingus, who had been so falsely 
accused as his accomplice in the crime. 

These circumstances form the most probable solu- 
tion of the cause that procured the restoration of the 
Bishop of Devonshire to all his honours ; no small 
instance of good fortune in the reign of such a 
tyrant; and this event seems to be the last of any 
public import in the life of Livingus. His latter 
days were spent in peace, in the regular discharge of 
his episcopal duties, and in the innocent and delight- 
ful pursuits of letters. He composed during his 
retirement a work which, could it now be recovered, 
would form indeed one of the curiosities of literature ; 
according to Prince's translation its title was Canute's 
Pilgrimage, and his own Doings. 

Livingus, notwithstanding all his troubles, lived 
through the reigns of four kings ; a thing not very 
common with one so eminent, who had been assailed 
by the envy and jealousy of others in times so 
marked by violence and injustice. Historians and 
antiquaries differ as to the place of his death; but 
Hooker is of opinion that it occurred at his favourite 
monastery of Tavistock ; of which he had been 
chosen the first abbot after its rebuilding, and 
where his munificence had been so largely displayed. 




i 1 


-J 4«o LIVINGUS. [let. 

However his mind might be at rest at the time of 
his dissolution, he could hardly bq said to depart in 
peace ; since the monks have recorded that, at the 
very hour of his decease, the greatest storm shook 
all England that had been felt for many years. — 
" Horrisonns crepitus per totam Angliam auditus, ut 
ruina et finis totius putareter orbis? Prince, however, 
is of opinion that this " horrible crack of thunder," as 
he calls it, "did rather prognosticate the ruin which 
threatened the liberties of England" on that great 
change which so speedily succeeded, in the invasion 
of our island by William the Conqueror. Be this as 
it may, Livingus died as the worthy would wish to 
die, in a good old age, in favour with God and man. 
He was buried in the Abbey Church of Tavistock. 
Hooker says he departed this life on the 23rd of 
March, 1049 J but the Saxon Chronicle fixes that 
event in 1044, when it simply states, " This year 
Living, Bishop of Devonshire, died, and the king's 
priest Leofric succeeded him." 

Another remarkable person also ended his days 
in our Abbey in these early times; Edwy Atheling, 
a son of King Ethelred, grandson of Elfrida, and 
great grandson of Orgar, the founder. Alarmed by 
the jealousy of Canute, who, like his son Harold, 
looked with an eye of suspicion on the princes of 
the Saxon line, Edwy sought a refuge in the Abbey : 
he did not very long survive, and was buried in the 
church : no vestige remains of his tomb. 

Many noble persons were munificent patrons of the 
monastic foundation of Tavistock. William Rufus, 
in the year 1096, confirmed to the monks a mansion 
called Walsinton, which they made it appear they had 
a right to consider their own, time out of mind, though 


some busy men on the part of the crown would have 
deprived them of that possession. 

The grant of Walsinton was confirmed to Tavistock 
in the presence of Walchaline, Bishop of Winchester, 
Turstin, Superior of Glastonbury, and other eccle- 
siastics, by the king presenting to the abbot an ivory 
knife, on the handle of which were these words : — 
" Ego Willielmus Rex dedi Deo et Sanctae Mariae de 
Tavistoc terram Wlerintune." 

From Dugdale we likewise learn that Robert Old- 
bridge gave to the Abbey the lands of Wynemerston, 
on a stipulation that the lord abbot should pay to him 
ten marks in silver, with liberty for him to take up his 
abode within the walls whenever he might wish to 
retire from the world ; and, in the interval, that every 
day he should visit or continue in Tavistock he might 
claim the allowance given to one monk, if he chose 
to ask for it. 

Robert Fitz Baldwin restored the lands of Passe- 
ford. King Henry I. ordered Rinberg and Eudelipe, 
which had been taken from the monks, to be restored. 
He granted to them likewise all the churches in the 
Isles of Scilly, confirmed to them by his son Reginald, 
Earl of Cornwall, the tithes of which were granted to 
the Abbey by the Bishop of Exeter at that period. 
King Edward took the church of the island of En- 
mour, in Scilly, under his protection, ordering the 
constable of the castle there to guard the same from 
all insults and injuries. 

By deed of Odo Le Arcedeckne, knight, bearing 
date the day of St. Mark the Evangelist, the seven- 
teenth of Edward I., he resigns to the monks for the 
health of his own soul, and the souls of all his family, 
the lands of Westlydeton ; and the said monks for 


the good of their own souls, in the year 1291 appro- 
priated all the revenues of these lands to the purchase 
of clothes and shoes for the poor in Christ, to be yearly 
distributed among them on the feast of All Souls. 

By an agreement between the Abbot, of Tavistock 
and the Prior of Plympton, the latter obliged himself 
and his successors to do certain acts of suit and 
service to the former ; namely, to attend the abbot, at 
his own charges, whenever he made his visitation 
within the diocese of Exeter; to provide him with 
sundry loaves of white bread, two flagons of wine, 
and five wax tapers, whenever he visited his manor 
of Plymstock; to present every new abbot with a 
palfrey and a groom during his perambulation; to 
confirm his rights, until the day of his instalment; 
and on the feast of St. Michael, to provide him with 
a chaplain, who was a good clerk, for the church of 

Bronscombe, the celebrated Bishop of Exeter, 4 
appropriated to our Abbey the churches of Tavistock, 
Lamerton, Middleton, Abbotsham, North Petherwyn, 
Hatherleigh, and Brent Tor. The bull of Pope Celes- 
tin, dated 1 193, confirmed all donations made to this 
house, and all privileges whatsoever. In the year 
1280, Reginald Ferrars, the Lord of Beer, and Isota 
of Ferrars, of Nyweton Ferrars, gave to the monks of 
the Abbey of Tavistock all their lands in Cornwood, 
on their performing the customary homage for the 

In the second of Richard II., William Edgcumbe, 

4 His tomb, in Exeter Cathedral, still exists, and for the pure style 
and beauty of its execution ranks amongst the finest in Europe* The 
attitude in which the figure reposes, the head, limbs, and draperies 
remind one, in their grandeur and simplicity, of the works of Raphael. 


of Cothele, resigned to the Abbey all claim on the 
park of Innersleigh, in the manor of Middleton, and 
John D'Abernon, of Bradeford, gave to the same 
house all his manor of Wyke, near Brent Tor, and 
his lands and tenements at Holywell. Many other 
were the benefactors to this costly foundation ; but 
I have here mentioned the principal. 

Over this monastery presided thirty-six abbots, 
from its institution to the time of its dissolution. 
Two of these, Livingus and Aldred, were made 
bishops ; the latter is said to have placed the crown 
on the head of William the Conqueror. John Dyn- 
ington, who was the superior in 1450, was charged by 
one of the Bishops of Exeter with too much attention 
to the adornment of his person, and possibly with 
some truth ; as he was the man who stirred the 
question with King Henry VI., that the abbots of 
Tavistock should be allowed to enjoy the privilege of 
wearing the pontificalia — the licence for which I shall 
presently copy from my brother's notices. Its par- 
ticularity forms a very good illustration of the eccle- 
siastical vestments of the time. If, however, John 
Dynington had a too curious taste in his attire, it 
should seem he did not confine his attention to 
outward things of that description ; and that he was 
not less attentive to the edifices of his community. 
My brother says of him : " Dynington probably made 
large repairs and additions to the buildings of the 
Abbey, as most of the remains of these now extant 
are characterized by the deep label moulding, and 
obtusely pointed arch, which became the prevailing 
characteristics of Gothic architecture towards the 
close of the fifteenth century. The great gate of the 
Abbey is decorated with two minarets of this period, 


and the parapet of its pointed roof is crenellated 
and embattled ; certainly a misapplication of the 
crenellated form, and a specimen of perverted taste." 
Whilst the abbot and his monks were, as above 
stated, grown rich, and had all things subservient to 
their desires and their luxuries, the poor parish priest 
was labouring with indigence and want. Some few 
years since, among the papers in the parish chest, 
was found a petition from the officiating priest to 
the parishioners assembled in the vestry, absolutely 
begging for a pair of shoes ! The document, which 
was found and read by my husband's father, is no 
longer in existence, (at least we find no traces of it) 
or I should here insert it From this petition we may 
gather that the worthy monks who took such care 
of their own souls, as to give away the revenues of 
Westlydeton in apparel and shoes to the 'poor in 
Christ/ did not consider their poor brother of the 
secular clergy to be of that number, and so they let 
him go barefoot. This is a trifling circumstance, 
but in such trifles as these we may trace the spirit of 
jealousy between the monks and the parish priests, 
that commenced in the time of Dunstan, and was 
never after wholly set at rest. Truly the officiating 
minister was not overwhelmed with this world's 
goods, and with him they seem little to have re- 
garded the text, that those who preach the gospel 
should live by the gospel ; for whilst the Abbot of 
Tavistock was, in the reign of Henry VIII., honoured 
with a mitre, and made a peer of the realm, by the 
title of Baron of Hurdwick, (which is now one of the 
titles of the Duke of Bedford, to whose ancestors the 
lands of the Abbey were granted at the dissolution) 
and enjoyed revenues of nearly one thousand a year, 


in those days an enormous income, the poor priest 
of Tavistock Church was only entitled to ten pounds 
per annum. 

John Banham, the abbot who received the mitre, 
and was called to Parliament by Henry VIII. the 
same year, maintained a long contest with Hugh 
Oldham, Bishop of Exeter, about the liberties of his 
church, and was so far successful that he gained the 
sanction of the Pope for what he did, who excommu- 
nicated the luckless Bishop but a short time before 
his death ; so that his body could not be buried till 
this fearful sentence was removed by an application 
to Rome. 

I have a few observations to add concerning the 
Order of monks here established during so long a 
period, and then, for the present, I must say adieu. 

In the Anglo-Saxon monasteries, where there was 
much of true holiness, as well as of superstition, the 
utmost simplicity prevailed in regard to dress, espe- 
cially after the Benedictine rule had, in the ninth cen- 
tury, usurped that of all others in England. Here, 
then, may we fancy that we see the good Livingus in 
his Benedictine attire — a tunic and cowl, black in 
colour, and in his day formed of the coarsest woollen 
stuff; a broad belt girds his garments about the 
middle, from which depends his altnonier, or little 
pouch ; he carries about him a knife, a steel pen, and 
a table-book to note down his thoughts ; a rosary is 
by his side; a cross suspended on his breast; his black 
mantle is large and full, and as an abbot he has a right 
to wear it without as well as within the church. 

The brothers of his Order wear a black scapular as 
their ordinary or working dress ; they also have a 
cowl, but their long woollen mantle is worn only in the 

426 BENEDICTINE MONKS. [let. xxiv. 

church. In addition to the knife, each monk is supplied 
with a needle, and those who are most holy with a rod, 
to inflict on themselves in the most literal manner 

" Much castigation, exercise devout." 

Hair shirts were likewise often worn ; they were in- 
deed of very ancient date, and had no doubt their 
origin in the East ; for St. Chrysostom mentions the 
hair shirt as forming part of the dress of the Oriental 
monks. I am inclined to think that such hair shirt 
was not one of torture, and that Chrysostom referred 
to the material of which Eastern clothing was then 
generally made — the camel's and the goat's hair. In 
other countries a less delicate material might have 
been adopted, and become an irritating and trouble- 
some dress when worn next the skin. But as we 
know that to this day the camel's-hair shawls of India 
are the softest in the world, how can we believe that 
the early Eastern clothing formed of it could have 
been anything like a garb of torture ? 

The monks in the times of the Anglo-Saxons were 
bare-legged, and their ' shoon ' resembled the classical 
sandal. Fosbrooke in his very learned work on mona- 
chism, mentions that visiters were received among 
them, the holy men "giving them water to cleanse 
their hands, washing their feet, wiping them with a 
towel, and inviting them to dine at nine o'clock in the 
morning." And the rule of Pachomius orders "that 
the feet of visiters be washed, even if clerks or holy 
imonks." The Benedictines were celebrated for charity 
and hospitality to strangers; a noble hall is generally 
found in the edifices of their Order. There was one 
at Tavistock; but all account of what still remains of 
!the Abbey I must defer till my next letter. 



Dissolution of the Abbey — Devastation of the Reformation — Henry VIII. 
— His Six Articles — Cupidity of his Courtiers and Dependents — 
Sixteenth Century one of great Corruption — Immediate evils at- 
tending the ruin of Monasteries — Reformed Clergy, with few 
exceptions, ignorant Men — Edward VI., his character — Fiery trial 
reserved for the Martyrs of the Reformation — Learned and pious 
Men who flourished in the succeeding Reigns — Dissolution of 
Tavistock Abbey — Last Abbot — Grant of the Abbey Lands to the 
Russell Family — Account of the remains of the Abbey Buildings — 
Chapter-house taken down — Recent discoveries — The Gateway 
S.W. — Betsy Grimbal's Tower — Superstition respecting it — The 
Porch-pinnacle — Bones of an Infant found in breaking into a Wall 
— Abbot's Hall — Refectory — Sarcophagus — Giant's Bones — Saxon 
School — Parish Church — Extracts from curious old Churchwarden 
Accounts — The Churchyard — Singular custom of the Sexton at 
Funerals — Superstition of Midsummer-eve — Death of the Luggars 
— Their Story related — Fitz and Glanville, their Monuments — 
Honorary Monument to Queen Elizabeth — Saxon School — Printing 
Press — Books printed in the Abbey. 

Vicarage, Tavistock, August 29th, 1832. 

The next event which I have to communicate re- 
specting our Abbey is its dissolution ; an occurrence 
not only in this instance, but in all others throughout 
the kingdom, sincerely to be regretted, for surely 
the monasteries, as well as the Church, might have 
been reformed without being entirely overthrown. 
Old buildings, like old customs and laws, are not the 


growth of a day ; years of labour and generations of 
wisdom have been as the parents of both, and pity is 
it that a few months or days of innovation, and a 
few thoughtless or violent men, should make such 
destruction, and render all the toils of the past as 

The benefits of the Reformation are well under- 
; ! stood, the sins of it have been less noticed, and that 

good came out of so much evil was more the result of 
divine than human causes. God, in the wisdom of 
his inscrutable counsels, works by means that on a 
first view sometimes appear contradictory. Bad men 
are frequently but as his instruments, while they 
seem to follow the career of their own selfish or 
stormy passions ; for in the end we generally find he 
but employs them, as he does the lightning and the 
winds, to clear away what is noxious, to purify or to 
renovate ; when the beautiful and the serene in the 
moral world follow after ; even as the bow of promise, 
a bright sun, and a refreshed earth succeed the dis- 
turbance and turmoil of the elements in that physical 
world which lies before our view. 

That Henry VIII., when he threw off the yoke of 
Rome, when he repudiated a blameless wife, and 
overthrew monasteries and abbeys, was really a re- 
former for the sake of the Reformed faith, no one, 
I believe, of any party, for a moment even fancies. 
His Six Articles are sufficient proof that it was 
the restraining power, and not the doctrine of the 
Church of Rome, that he was anxious to destroy ; 
and the cupidity, the pride, the extravagant living of 
his hungry dependents and courtiers, caught eagerly 
at the lure that such rich prizes as desecrated Church 
lands held out, and " Down with the monasteries for 


their abuses" was then the plea; when the cry of 
the daughter of the horse-leech, 'Give, give,' would 
better have expressed the motive. 

That the sixteenth century was one of great cor- 
ruption, of great immorality, of much false religion, 
and of many enormities in its professors, cannot be 
denied. The time was ripe for chastisement, and 
God sent the storm, and idolatry and falsehood in 
this country fell before it. But the immediate effects 
were perhaps intended, as they were found to be, an 
evil. For, saving a few such men as Latimer and 
Cranmer, how long was it before the Reformed clergy, 
who succeeded the overthrow of the Popish priests, 
were truly worthy their high calling as guides and 
leaders of the flock of Christ ! 

Poor livings found but poor scholars and needy 
men to fill their place. The clergy were degraded 
into an impoverished and dependent body in the 
eyes of the people ; contempt with the vulgar was 
the certain consequence of such misfortunes, since 
base men ever look on poverty as a crime ; and 
though the populace were no longer allowed to feed 
their imagination with the splendid shows, or the 
candles, and the flowers, and the images of the 
Church of Rome, their reason was not much more 
enlightened than whilst it had been held in its former 
state of darkness. Can we then wonder that to rifle 
abbeys, to violate the sanctuary, to tear down the 
noblest monuments of piety and of art (which our 
forefathers in singleness of heart had offered as a 

habitation fit for the worship of their God) ; to com- 


mit sacrilege, deface the effigies of the great, the 
noble, and the good, to disturb from their place of 
repose the mouldering ashes of the dead, to seize the 

I. ■ 

'■* . 

430 EDWARD THE SIXTH. [let. 

very plate from the altar, and, like the impious king 
of old, to make it subservient to the purposes of 
luxury and indulgence, were things that the bold, 
the avaricious, and the heartless, did without remorse; 
whilst the fearful looked on and trembled. These 
were the sins of the Reformation. As the poor lost 
the charity of those ancient houses whose doors had 
been ever open to relieve them, the old and the 
pious (for there were many) who had retired from a 
world of which they were grown weary, were once 
more cast upon its stormy waters when they were 
\ but themselves a wreck, and could no longer stem 

j the torrent, or with a safe conscience sail down the 

i current of the times. But these moral evils had 

[■ their date ; and though days of misery, of persecu- 

tion, and of sorrows 'even, unto death/ intervened, 
; the sun of the Reformation at length came forth 

from the cloud, and the harvest and the joy spread 
beneath its beams. 

The guardian king, who watched its progress with 

so much zeal and love, was too soon snatched from 

1 this world to one where his pure spirit was destined 

to find its early and rich reward. Happy for himself, 
but grievous for England, Edward died before even 
his days of such glorious promise had ripened into 
manhood. He lived not to bless this country with 
an age 'full of years and full of honours;' but to 
him may truly be applied what a French writer said 
of a Dauphin of France, who also died in his youth : 
"That heaven, counting his virtues, esteemed him 

old, and took him to his rest." 


The day of the fiery trial was next reserved for 
the Reformation. The holy martyrs stood in prayer 
and agony, burning at the stake, glorifying God in 


the face of all the world. The Church stood the 
trial and approved itself worthy, and God removed 
the flaming sword from the tree of life, and gave the 
olive-branch in its stead. 

From that time, down to the days of Charles I., 

great and shining lights arose in succession ; and not 

since the days of the fathers who came after the 

apostles, have, perhaps, so many truly great divines 

been found in any church as in that of the Reformed 

and Established Church of England. In proof of 

this, who that feels a pride in the virtue, the genius, 

the piety of his native land, can do other than honour 

the names of Hooker, the author of the Ecclesiastical 

Polity ; — of Fuller, whose sermons, though, like those 

of the admirable Latimer, somewhat quaint, are only 

less valued than his Church History because they are 

less known ; — of Hall, venerable alike in his writings 

and his life ; — of the pious and single-hearted Bishop 

Andrews ; — of the apostolic Jeremy Taylor ; — the 

admirable Allestree and Donne ; — of Raleigh, (the 

nephew of the great Sir Walter Raleigh) who was 

basely murdered in his prison, where he had been 

consigned for adhering to the cause of his unfortunate 

master, Charles I. ? Of this divine, Chillingworth 

said " he was the most powerful reasoner he had ever 

encountered ;" and Raleigh's sermon on one of the 

most difficult points of doctrine — that of election 

consistent with freewill — is argued with such clearness 

and strength, that there needs no other proof how 

well merited was the eulogium of his friend. But 

what praise shall speak the excellencies of Farrindon? 

of Farrindon, now slumbering in neglect, whose power 

to touch the heart, though it were hard as a rock, 

and make it yield a spring of living waters, has never 


432 THE SURRENDER. [let. 

■ yet been exceeded by any writer of any age ; — 

of Beveridge, whose sermon on the text ' I am that 

I am/ Steele (to whom many of the obsolete divines 

! i were unknown) considered the finest in our language. 

Barrow is known to every student ; but not so Harris, 
who preached in London during the plague, with the 
fearlessness, the devotion, and the power of a true 
• servant of God, sent at such a moment to call all 

men to repentance. 

To return, however, from this digression to our 

Abbey. In the notices before quoted, and written by 

my brother, I find he thus speaks of the circumstances 

T attending its dissolution : — u John Pyryn succeeded 

f Banham, and, with the monks assembled in chapter, 

% surrendered the Abbey to the King's Commissioners 

: on the 20th March, 1538. Of the twenty-two signa- 

! tures which appear on the margin of the deed of 

surrender, the following may be noted. The abbot 
and the prior sign first — 'Per me Joh'em Abbate,' 
'per me Robertu Walsh, priore' — then indiscrimi- 
nately are found — 'Joh'es Harriss, sub-prior, Rye 
' (Ricardus) custos,' &c. The abbot retired on a pen- 

sion of one hundred pounds per annum, at that 
period a very large one ; the prior had a stipend of 
ten pounds per annum ; the sub-prior one of eight 
pounds ; the monks from six pounds to five pounds 
six shillings and eightpence each ; and two novices 
were allowed two pounds per annum. The abbot 
continued to reside at Tavistock, 1 in the enjoyment of 
the comfortable provision which had been assigned 
him : at which place in the year 1 549 he made his 
will, which being proved in April, 1550, we may 
conclude that he died about that time. 

1 The old house in which he lived has lately been taken down. 


"The dissolved Abbey of Tavistock and its depen- 
dencies were, by the King's letters patent, dated the 
fourth of July, in the thirty-first year of his reign, 
granted to John Lord Russell, Ann his wife, and their 
lawful heirs male, at a certain reserved rent. 2 Lord 
Russell had been received into the favour of Henry 
VII., knighted by his successor, and created a baron 
of the realm ; nominated Lord Warden of the Stan- 
naries in Devon and Cornwall, Lord Privy Seal, and 
one of the councillors of Edward VI. during his 
minority. He was constituted Lord High Steward 
at the coronation of that youthful monarch, and on 
the insurrection which broke out at Sampford Cour- 
tenay, in Devon, and which was followed by the siege 
of the capital of the West, Exeter, Lord Russell 
marched against the rebels, totally routed and dis- 
persed them. For these services he was shortly after 
created Earl of Bedford. It is not the object of these 
notes to enter at length into the history of this 
ancient and noble house ; suffice it to say, that 
William, the fifth descendant from the Earl, was, in 
the reign of William and Mary, created Marquis of 
Tavistock and Duke of Bedford, and his present 
worthy descendant, John Duke of Bedford, is in 
possession of the lands and ecclesiastical impropria- 
tions of the dissolved Abbey." 

Having thus come to the dissolution of our Mo- 
nastery, something must here be said concerning the 
portions of the ancient buildings that still exist, not- 
withstanding the havoc so largely and so repeatedly 
made amongst them. For this purpose I have been 
looking over Mr. Bray's MS. notes, written several 
years since, respecting the remains of Tavistock 

8 See Farm Roll, Augmentation Office. 
vol. I. 2 F 

434 FOLLY ORCHARD. [let. 

Abbey. These observations may not have so much 
interest as he could wish ; but as some of the vestiges 
he mentions are now no longer in existence, the notes 
of what he saw and described in his youth ought to 
be preserved. I have gleaned from a mass of papers 
that which follows. 

" The site of the Abbey extends from east to west 
along the north bank of the river Tavy. The prin- 
cipal entrance was at the north, close to the eastern 
boundary. This gateway is in high preservation, 
with its gate at least as perfect as that at Temple 
Bar ; to which it bears some resemblance, by having 
on one side a postern, or foot passage. 3 There are 
two other gateways to the south and west, the former 
of which leads to the banks of the river, where, till 
Guile or Abbey Bridge was erected, there was a ford ; 
and the latter to the abbot's gardens and stew-ponds, 
which still exist. 4 

"About one hundred years ago, a considerable 
portion of these venerable edifices was taken down, 
to erect on the spot the large but inconvenient build- 
ing commonly called the Abbey House. This havoc 
was committed by a Mr. Saunders, who, not for these 
barbarities, however, but for building so large a house 
on another man's property, was and in a manner still 
is ridiculed, by the name of Folly Orchard being 
given to some grounds which he occupied with it I 

8 Mr. Bray tells me that ever since his remembrance, till very lately, 
this gateway was used by a fellmonger for drying wool. Under the 
flight of steps leading to it was the clink ; but it is now destroyed, and 
he believes it was of no very ancient date. The place where prisoners 
are now confined is situated very near, though it does not communicate 
with the gateway, but with the ancient guildhall. 

4 This is no longer the case; recent alterations have destroyed all 
but one of the stew-ponds. 


never understood, as some assert, that he was the 
Duke of Bedford's steward ; at any rate he certainly 
was not a wise one. A very old and intelligent lady 
of this place, Miss Adams, who remembers Saunders's 
wife, informs me that part of the building which he 
tore down was a school-house. Some have supposed 
that it was the Saxon school and Chapter-house, which 
Prince (who wrote not very long before Saunders com- 
mitted these spoliations) thus describes : ' There is still 
standing the refectory, or common hall ; a very spacious 
room, of great length, breadth, and height, lately 
converted into a Nonconformist meeting-house ; and 
the Saxon school and Chapter-house, a pile of great 
beauty, built so round as can possibly be marked 
with a compass ; yet withal of large dimensions, 
there being on the inside thereof six-and-thirty seats 
wrought out in the walls, all arched overhead with 
curious hewn and carved stone.' s 

5 Prince also says : " The abbot's palace was a glorious building, 
now wholly demolished ; of very late years was the kitchen standing, 
now razed to the foundation, being a large square room, open to the 
roof, which was of timber so geometrically done, that even architects 
themselves did admire the curiosity thereof." 

Recent discoveries have proved that it was the Chapter-house which 
Saunders, of barbarous memory, thus destroyed. In the year 1830, on 
making some additions to the Bedford Office, which stands close to the 
Abbey House (now an hotel), part of the beautiful pavement of the 
Chapter-house, consisting of tiles, bearing the figures of lions and fishes, 
was discovered. Mr Kempe says of this — " that the lion passant, or 
rampant, has been borne in the armorial coat of the Earls of Cornwall 
ever since the time of Reginald (base son of Henry I., a benefactor to 
our Abbey), and that by the fishes some allusion to the possessions in 
the Scilly Isles may be intended." I observed amongst the rubbish 
dug up on the spot where the tiles were found, part of a Gothic niche, 
beautifully carved, and still retaining its red and other colours, for it 
had been painted. The sight of this fragment made me but the more 
regret the miserable destruction which such a man as Saunders had 
been allowed to effect. 




" The gateway S.W," continues Mr. Bray, " com- 
municated with the gardens and pleasure-ground of 
the Abbey : it consists of a vaulted passage about 
nine paces in length and eight feet in height, between 
two towers that present to the front the three appa- 
rent sides of an octagon. The southern tower, called 

Betsey Grimbal's, is so denominated from a tradition 
that a woman thus named was there murdered by a 
soldier. Within my own recollection there were 
many who pretended to show where the wall was 
stained with her blood ; and when a child I was so 
little of a sceptic as firmly to believe that it was 
haunted, and never ventured to visit it alone. But, 
setting aside the want of verisimilitude in this vulgar 
fabrication, which from the locality of the situation 
should rather have suggested the story of some fair 
nun murdered, not by the hands of a soldier, but 
by some jealous monk or enamoured abbot, (as a 
talc I have to relate may lead one to suspect) the 

xxv;] SARCOPHAGUS. 437 

stains in the wall or rather in the plaster which still 
adheres to it in some places, are solely the effects of 
damp. Probably some ironstone, of which there is 
a great quantity in the neighbourhood, corroded by 
the wet, tinged the drops of a ferruginous or red 
colour that percolated through the cracks. How- 
ever, allowing much for fabrication, we may fairly 
conclude that the story had its origin from some 
circumstance in which a female was concerned, and 
that some act of violence was committed on this 

" At the back of the Abbey House (now the Bed- 
ford Hotel) stands a porch, crowned with four lofty 
pinnacles, partially covered with the most luxuriant 
ivy. The ceiling of the vaulted entrance is of 
elegantly carved stone-work. 

"The upper room is also vaulted with pendent 
wood work. In it is a chimney. As there was no 
communication to it, the doorway in a different 
direction being blocked up, a passage was broken 
through the wall a few years since, near one of the 
corners, where was a hollow buttress or turret. Here 
some infant bones were found ; parts of the skull, 
some of the vertebrae and a thigh bone, which are 
still in my possession. 6 The porch here described 
leads to what was supposed to be the Abbot's Hall. 7 

6 The bones above alluded to by Mr. Bray are those of a very young 
child, most probably a new-born infant. He keeps them in a carved 
horn box that belonged to the famous Sir Francis Drake. There is a 
passage in Fox's Book of Martyrs^ which I well remember, though I 
have mislaid the note I made of it, wherein it was stated that at the 
dissolution of monasteries in this kingdom, the bones of infants were 
sometimes found in places where no such discoveries seemed likeljfto be 

7 Whilst copying the above from Mr. Bray's old papers, he tells me 
that in Lysons' Devon, vol. ii. p. 474, he is referred to as supposing 

438 BONES OF ORDULPH. [let. 

" In making the foundation for the Abbey House 
the workmen dug up, according to tradition, a stone 
coffin, or sarcophagus, containing the bones now 
deposited in the church, and called the gianfs bones. 
The sarcophagus is still in existence, and in my 
possession. It is very thick, but no more than four 
and a half feet long in the interior, and eighteen and 
a quarter inches in depth. It is not much unlike the 
shape of a coffin, being larger in the middle than at 
either end. The bones are of an extraordinary size, 
both human thigh bones. One measures twentyvone 
inches long by five inches and a half in circum- 
ference. The other is nineteen inches and a half 
long, by four inches and a half in circumference. On 
the authority of Mr. James Cole, the sexton, who 
shows them with the church, they are said to be the 
bones of Ordulph and his wife. 8 And though I 
presume not to assert that Ordulph, being himself a 
giant, would be content with less than a giantess for 
his partner, yet it seems not improbable that the 

that the apartment till within the last three years used as a ball-room, 
and now taken down to give place to the new one, was the Refectory. 
This supposition, which Mr. Bray mentioned to Mr. Lysens, arose from 
his father having told him that it was so called in the Duke of Bedford's 
rentals ; and that what Browne Willis calls the Refectory was the 
Abbot's Hall. But he now rather doubts his father's correctness in 
this particular, especially as, for the same reason, the late Mr. Bray 
considered the Saxon school was under the ball-room, which does not 
correspond with the description given by Prince or Willis. He is the 
more disposed to think the latter antiquary right in regard to the 
Refectory (still used as a Unitarian meeting-house) as the Rev. Dr. Jago, 
of Milton Abbot, an aged gentleman, tells him that he recollects a 
stone pulpit that was affixed to the side of the wall in this apartment. 
It is well known that sermons or homilies were read to the monks 
whilst at dinner; and the custom is still observed in some religious 
houses on the Continent. 

. 8 William of Malmesbury expressly declares that Ordulph was of 
gigantic stature. 

xxv.] TOMB OF ORGAR. 439 

smaller bone might have been that of his father, 
Orgar, Earl of Devon. 

" From the size of the sarcophagus, if we suppose 
a giant was there deposited, he must have been tied 
neck and heels together. It is possible indeed that 
the bones might have been collected long after death, 
and there placed as relics. And I am the more in- 
clined to this opinion, as we know in what veneration 
the relics of the founder of an abbey were always 
held ; and that father and son, who were the co- 
founders of our Monastery, were both buried in it. 
There is every reason to believe 9 that the tomb of 
Orgar was not only repaired, but absolutely rebuilt, 
in the reign of Henry III. At that period, therefore, 
the bones of himself and of his son might have been 
collected and placed together. Or it is not impossible 
that the pious monks, on rebuilding the tomb of their 
founders, after the Abbey and its church had been 
burnt and ravaged by the Danes, might even then 
have exhumed and deposited their bones in one com- 
mon sarcophagus, which had remained undiscovered 
till the work of destruction was again commenced 
within these hallowed enclosures by the barbarians 
of modern times, who dug them up in forming the 
foundations for the Abbey House so often named, 
when that of the ancient Chapter-house was torn 
down to make room for it. 

"There are some interesting and picturesque re- 
mains, crowned with their lofty pinnacles, of the 
buildings belonging to the Abbey, yet standing in good 
preservation near the principal .entrance at the north. 
Amongst them may be observed a tower, remarkable 
for the beauty of its masonry. The adjoining apart- 

9 See Letter xxii. 


440 THE REFECTORY. [let. 

ments, in the occupation of a miller, overlook the 
river Tavy ; and seen from the opposite bank, present 
altogether an admirable subject for the pencil of an 
artist like Prout 1 

" I have omitted to mention that the old ball-room, 
erroneously called the Refectory, stood nearly north 
by south : it is on the first floor ; and I have reason 
to think communicated with what was considered the 
Abbot's Hall, (and which Browne Willis, I doubt 
not correctly, declared to have been the Refectory) 
by means of a gallery. The old ball-room had also 
a passage of communication with the Abbey House. 
Whilst my father lived there, several years since, I 
restored some of the windows, which had been plas- 
tered over when the mullions of the others were 
u destroyed for the purpose of introducing modern 

sash windows ; the taste, I conclude, of Mr. Saunders, 
who seems to have spared neither labour nor expense 
to do all the mischief he could possibly effect. The 
windows thus restored had a beautiful appearance. 
The ceiling was modern, being somewhat vaulted, 
but broken in the curve by a moulding, and then 
becoming flat. As it was much decayed it was 
taken down, when the original roof became visible, 
but so little of it remained that I dared not re- 
commend the restoration, but contented myself with 
giving it an uninterrupted curve. The wood-work, 
as well as I recollect, was of a trefoil form, elegantly 
but not very richly carved." 2 

1 Since this was written these ancient buildings have been appro- 
priated to the Public Library. 

* " It is of some importance, in investigating the ruins of abbeys, to 
know where to look for the sites of particular offices. Whitaker's 
account is factitious. Our authors {History of Shrewsbury) place them 
as follows : 

4 j 




The following account of the parish church I copy 
from Mr. Bray's MS. notes, and from my brother's 
historical notices of Tavistock Abbey in the Gentle- 
man's Magazine. 

"The parish church," says the latter, "is dedicated 
to St. Eustace, and was erected within the cemetery 
of the Abbey Church. Leland thought it had not 
been built long before the dissolution, and that the 
parishioners had previously a place of worship within 
the Abbey Church ; this indeed was not unlikely, as 
other examples might readily be adduced to show. 
The parish church of Tavistock was, however, 
certainly in existence in the reign of Richard II., 
and how much earlier I have not discovered : it 
appears to have been under repair in 1386. The 
exterior view exhibits a dark, lofty tower, under 
which is an archway forming a passage from the 
Abbey precinct into the town ; four distinct roofs, 
extending from the tower at the west to the ter- 
mination of the building, indicate a spacious interior. 
Among the documents to which I had access in 1827, 
I found and deciphered the following very early 
churchwarden account of the ninth year of Richard 
II. I shall give an extract from it on account of the 
curious items it contains : among these will be found 
a charge for collecting rushes for strewing the church 
against the feast of John the Baptist, and the anni- 
versary of the dedication ; for the expenses of a man 
and horse sent to buy wax at Plymouth for lights 

"Dormitory. — Mostly, but not always, on the west side of the cloister. 

"Refectory. — Generally on the side of the cloister opposite to the 
church, and parallel with it. 

" Chapter-house. — Always on the eastern side of the cloister. 

"Abbot's Lodging. — South-east of the church, though not invariably 
so." — Gentleman's Magazine^ November, 1826. 


in the church ; charges for materials for repairing 
windows, &c. ; for making three painted figures in 
the window of the vestry ; for fuel ; for shutters to 
the great east window ; for the bringing a mason to 
repair the said window; for drinkings to the workmen 
employed on the above ; rents from the park of 
Trewelake for maintaining lights at the altars of St. 
Nicholas, St. Stephen, St John the Baptist, St. 
Katharine ; payments made to the sacrist of the 
parish church for offerings to the respective altars 
therein ; to the notary, for drawing the account, &c. 

"'Tavystoke. S. Compu's custod\ hujus eccli'e beati Eustachii 
Tavistock a festo InvencVis s'e'e crucis sub anno d'ni millo 
ccc mo. octogesimo usq' ad id'm tu'c p'x'me sequ* ann' d'nV millo 
ccc mo lxxxvi to - 

" ' Empcio cerse. Idem comput. in cxl. lib. cerae emptis hoc 
anno Wis. x d custos et Repa'cio Ecclie. Idem computat' in cirpis 
colligend' con', festum s'c'i Joins' baptistae iv 4 * In die dedica- 
c'ois eccl'ie— In bokeram emptis in repacVe vestementor , — In 
conduco'e unius viri ceram emere apud Plymouth et unius equi 
expens suis ibidem viii 4 In quar'tio calcis (lime) empt xv 4 — 
In carriag. d'ee v 6 - — Carreragio lapid iv 4 (carriage of stones) — 
In vet. vit. (old glass) empt. ius. v* — In repac'oe unius fenestras 
vitre. in fine ecc'lie i\s iiii* 1 — In vi. pedibus novi vitri empt viis — 
In focalibus (fuel) empt. ii d - — In lviij. lib. plumbi empt ivs. x. 
ob. — In vii. lib. stanni empt. xviii d - — In conduco'e unius machi- 
onis (mason) ad d'e'am fenestram reparand — In factura trium 
ymaginum in fenesti in vestiario xii d - — I* repa'coe trium claterium 
(shutters) ad magnam fenestram in fine eccPie vi A — In cibo et 
potu vi d — In libera ad opus fenest* iii d - ad campanas xil* (for 
bell-ringing) — In rasina (resin) empt. in fatura ii (torches) — In 
i parva corda pro velo — In v. verg (yards) panni linei ad unum 
rochetum — In factura ejusd. rocheti vi d - — In factura unius cartas 
vi d - — In libitina (a bier) empt. viii — In repa'coe vestimentorum 
p. a\ vi d - — In vestimentis lavandis p. a* vi d - Item, ad cap. red- 
ditis parci de trewelake xvi d - Et diversis aitaribus eccPie p'd'ce 
de redds, p'ci. pd'ei. viz. ad lumen sci nichi iii 4 ad lumen sc'i 
Ste'phi iii d ad lumen sci Joh. baptiste iii d - ad lumen see Katerine 


iii d - — In clerico scribent. compot. xii d - — In emendacoe fenest 
ii d - — In pergamino (parchment) empto ii 4 ' 

" The sum total of these expenses, of which I have 
only given extracts, is 3/. js. ^d. ; then follows : 

" ' Liberacio denar' — Idem computat' in liba'colo sacristae mon- 
asterii de Tavystocke pro oblacione perveniente ad altaria 
ecclesie parochialis predictae \\\s iv d - per ann — Pro altari see 
Marie apud la south dor vis. viij d - a festo invencionis see crucis 
usque ad idem festum tunc proxime sequent'. Pro altari Sci 
Eustace xii 41 - per a. pro altari scae Katerinas xii d - pro altari sci 
blasii iv d - p' altari sci Johis Baptist vi d - pro altari see Trinitatis 
vi d - d. altari sci Georgii iv* 1 - pro altari sci Salvatoris in capella 
J oh. dabernoun iv**' 

" The account is subscribed ' per me cleric ' by the 
notary, who, I suspect, was a wag, as, instead of his 
signature, he affixes his notarial mark; a head with 
an extraordinary long nose (perhaps this was intended 
for his own portrait), having a quill stuck on the fore- 
head by way of plume. Subjoined to the account is 
this postscript. 

" ' Sepum (tallow) pro mortario (a light burning at the shrines or 
tombs of the dead) — de xxxiv. lib. sepi de empeione hoc ann. 
Thesaurus ecc'lie. Idem R. de cupa cum cuverculo (cup and 
cover) argento et duobus angelis de auratis tenent. vit. clan, 
corpus. d' m'cum (two gilt angels holding the body of our Lord 
enclosed in glass) ; et de iv. calices cum patenis argent. Et 
duobus cruetis (silver cruets) et de i pixi de argenteo pro corpore 
xs~ summa pat. Et reman i cupa cum cuverculo iv. calices cum 
patenis 2 cruet' cum pixi de argenteo.' 

"The paintings which formed the subject of the 
engraving that appeared in the Gentleman! s Magazine 
(February, 1830) were the next relics in point of 
antiquity appertaining to the church of St. Eustace, 
The panels are two feet eleven inches in height, the 
longer piece four feet in length, the shorter about two 


feet ; the figures are canopied by the most tasteful 
and elegantly carved Gothic foliage ; the mouldings 
which divided them no longer remain, but their situa- 
tion is readily observed by the vacant spaces between 
the figures, and those who have a knowledge of the 
Gothic style of architecture and ornament will easily 
supply them. The first figure to the left hand is the 
martyred Stephen, his hands uplifted, and his head 
surrounded by a nimbus of glory, the distinguishing 
emblem of saints; the next figure is St. Lawrence 
holding the instrument of his martyrdom, the gridiron. 
These are all that remain of a series of saints which 
were probably at least nine in number, to correspond 
with the nine grades of the angelic hierarchy, which 
are distinguished with wings; of the latter remain the 
personifications of the Archangeli, Cherubim, Potes- 
tates, and a fourth with the crown and sceptre, the 
inscription of which was probably Principatus. 3 The 
style of the armour worn by one of the figures fixes 
the age of the painting at about the time of Henry VI. 
I believe that the whole of these figures must have 
adorned compartments of the rood-loft in the parish 
church, which was doubtless erected over the opening 
from the church into the chancel, supporting the figure 

* The five other grades were — Throni, Angeli, Seraphim, Domina- 
tus, and Virtutes. All nine are represented in a window in St. Neot's 
Church, Cornwall (see Hedgeland's prints), and doubtless it was these 
nine orders which were painted on the Romsey altar-piece. To this 
order of marshalling the heavenly host, derived by early Christian 
writers from the Bible and the traditions of the Jews, Milton has fre- 
quently alluded. He makes both the Saviour of mankind and Satan 
address them in the fifth book of Paradise Lost — 

"Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers." 

And in the tenth is the following passage : 

" Him Thrones and Powers, 
Princedoms and Dominations ministrant, 
Accompanied to Heaven gate." 


of our blessed Saviour on the cross, and of his mother 
and John, the disciple whom he loved, standing by. 

" The mysterious meaning of this arrangement was 
as follows : The body of the church typified the 
church militant on earth, the chancel the church 
triumphant in heaven ; and all who would attain to 
a place in the latter must pass under the rood ; that 
is, take up the cross, and then follow their great 
Captain through trials and afflictions. A veil or 
curtain was drawn over the rood and the figures 
attached to it, when the services of the church in 
which they were exhibited were completed. This 
explains the charge in the preceding account, of 'a 
little cord for the veil.' 4 

" The next parochial document appertaining to the 
church of St. Eustace, which I shall here notice, is 
headed as follows : ' The account of Thomas Holes 
and John Collyn, wardens of the churche of Tavi- 
stock ffrom the thirde of Maye in the yere of our 
Lorde Godd one thousande ffyve hundred ffower 
schore and eight, until the third day of Maye in the 
yere of our Lorde Godd one thousande ffyve hun- 
dred ffower score and nyne, that is to weete for one 

whole yere .' From this I extract the following 

items : 

" * Receipts for the buryalle and belle. 5 

" ' Imprimis, the same accomptants doe charge themselves 
with the receipt of iv 6 - ffor the greate bell, upon the deathe of 
Margarett the daughter of Roger Dollyn. 

"'Item — Receaved upon the deathe of Agnes Drake, for all 
the bells and her grave, vilr. iv d - 

4 Sold a rod of iron which the curtain run upon before the rood 
A.D. 1549 — 3 Edward VI. See Fuller's History of Waltham Abbey. 

5 This shows that the expressions used by Shakspere in his Hamlet, 
* the bringing home of bell and burial J were in the current form of his 
day. — Vide Hamlet, Act v. Scene I. 



" ' Receavedof the p'shers [parishioners] of Tavystocktowardes 
a rate made for the setting fforth of souldyers for the guardynge 
of the Queen's ma'tie's p'son, and towardes the mayntenaunce 
of the churche this yere, as appeareth by a book of p'ticulars 
thereof, xxx//. xs. iv*-' 

" A large portion of this charge was doubtless for 
the musters of 1588, the year of the Armada. 

Ui Item. Gave Mr. Bickell, Mr. Battishill, Mr. Knightes, and 
other preachers who preached at sVall times in this p'ishe 
churche this yere [1588] ivy. viii d — Item, paide for wyne and 
bread this yere for the comunyon table, lixs. iii d - 

" ' Item, paide John Drake the schole master, for teachinge in 
the gramer schole this yere, xii/i. — Item, paide to Nicholas 
Watts for wages for teachinge of the little children this yere, 

• • • • * • 


"' Item, paide at the muster in August last past, xLr. — Item, 
paide by M r Ffytz his comaundement the xvi. of June, 1588, 
unto a collector having the Queene's greate seale to collect with, 
vi d - — Item, paide for a rope for one of the bells, xviij 4 

" ' Item, paide in August for the expenses of the soldiers at 
Plympton, viis. — Item, paid to John Burges, for his paynes in 
going with the Thrum (the town drum) vi d - — Item, paid the 6th 
of August and the 8th of August last past, to M r Ffytz of the 
money es collected at the last rate xvii//. — Item, paide the 18 
August last, to Richard Drake, towardes the charge of the 
tynners, vi/i. — Item, paide James the cutler for makynge cleane 
strappyne and other trymmynge for the corselett and other 
armour of the parishe, and for a new dagger, vis. — Item, paide 
for a new girdell, xvi 4 * 

" ' Item, paide for a book of articles at the firste visitac'on and 
for ffees then xxii* 1 — Item, for writing the presentments 6 at the 
visitac'on and lyninge in thereof xii 4 — Item, paide for the 
expenses of the wardens, sydemen, clarkes, and others of the 
p'ishe at dynner that day, vis. vi A — Item, paide Thomas Watts 
for amendinge of the Bible and the Book of Co'mon Prayer, 
beinge tornen in dyvers places, iis. ii^ 

"'Item, paide for the expenses of the constable, M r Mohan 
and of John Collyn, one of the wardens, and of Stephen 

8 Of Recusants refusing to attend the Common Prayer. 


Hamblyn and of the Constable's man at Plympton, beinge then 
at the assessinge of the subsidis, the xth of Sept r 1588, ins. i*- 

" ' Item, paide to one that collected with the broade seale, the 
20th October last vi d - — Item, paide to three Iryshemen, which 
hadd a lycence from the Earell [Earl] of Bath, vi d - — To a poore 
man that collected for the hospital of Saynt Leonard's, vi d - 

" ' Paide the paver for amendinge the pavement by the con- 
duytts and the street by the higher Churche bowe xxvii d - 

" * William Gaye for killing of eight ffoxes this yere viiLr. 7 

" ' Item, paide for a chayne and settinge in thereof, for the 
fastenynge of the dictionarrie in the Schole howse ix d - 8 

" ' Item, paide Walter Burges for one planke and nayles, 
amendinge of the Widdow Nicholls and Walter Poynter's 
wyfe's seate and other seates vii ] Item, paide him for cover- 
inge of six graves in the churche this yere xviii d - Item, paide 
him for washinge of the churche clothes, viii* 1 * 

" ' Item, for wry tinge this accompt and the accompt of the 
Alms-house landes, vis. viii d - 

" ' Bestowed on Mr. Moore the preacher for his expense, xxii d -' 

"From a churchwarden's book, beginning 1661, I 
extract the following curious entries : 

" ' Briefs in our parish as follow' — 

"29th April, 1660. 'Collected for a company going to New 
England, taken by the Ostenders, 6s. 6 d -' 

" September 16th, 1666. ' Collected towardes the reliefe of the 
present poore distressed people of the towne and University of 

7 The reward for the destruction of a fox was increased about a cen- 
tury after this time, more than threefold, as appears from the following 
entry : "May 1 8th, 1673. This day it was agreed by the masters and 
inhabitants of the towne and parish of Tavystoke, that whosoever shall 
kill any ffox within the said parish, shall receive for his or their paynes 
in so doing, the sum of three shillings and four pence." — Churchwardens' 
Booh, 1660 to 1740. 

8 This is an amusing charge, and shows the scarcity of lexicographic 
tomes in that day. The reader will remember to have seen, in many 
parish churches, the black letter Acts and Monuments of the Martyrs, 
similarly attached, pro bono publico, * to a chayne.' Erasmus's Para- 
phrase on the Gospels remains at the present time thus secured in 
Tavistock Church, the original cost of which, according to an item in 
another account, was fifteen shillings. 


"October nth, 1666. 'Collected towardes the reliefe of the 
poore inhabitants of London, who have lately suffered by the 
lamentable fire 11/. $s. o^ 4 ' 

" ' Feb**- 2 1 st, 1668. Collected the day above written of the 
towne and parishe of Tavystocke towardes the reliefe and re- 
demption of severall persons now slaves to the Turkes in Algiers 
and Sallay and other places 1/. 2s. i$ d -' 

" 1670, 2 1st, 22d, 23d, 24th November. 'Collected towardes 
the redemption of the present captives in Turkey, in the towne 
and parishe of Tavystoke.' 

" The list consists of upwards of seven hundred con- 
tributors. Amount of contribution 16/. or. 9^ 9 

" 1 2th July, 1674. ' Collected then the summe of 1/. 3^. 4^ fcr 
the fire of St. Martins in the fields, in the County of Middlesex.' 

"9th May, 1675. 'Collected then for John Forslett of Thil- 
broke, in the County of Cornwall, a poor captive in Ffez under 
the Turkes, \L 10s. i$ di 

" 24th April, 1675. ' For the fire at Redburne, in the County 
of Hereford, 6s. 6 d -' 

" March 19th, 1675. ' To a petition for John Lawes, a captive 
in Tituan, gs. 3 d -' 

" 13th September, 1677. ' For the fire at St Saviours and St. 
Thomas, in the County of Surrey, 27.F. o, 4 ' 

" 27th October. ' For James Cole of Totness, a captive in 
Argier, 17s. 7j d -' 

" 1680, August. Another general collection for redemption of 
the present captives in Turkey, amounting to 6/. iSs. 5*- 

*'i68i, November. Another, 'towardes the present subsis- 
tence and reliefe of the distressed Protestants of Ffrance, 6/ 
1 2 s. 3£ (U 

" ' 27th September, 1683. Paide and layd out to one M 8 - Mary 
Danevaux fowre shillings for her charges in going to her 
friendes having a greate losse among nine fammilyes in the 
towne of Mumby, in the County of Lincoln, having seen her 
petition under the hands and seales of the Justices of Peace of 

9 At the head of this list is the Honourable Lady Marie Howard, ten 
shillings. She was the Lady Howard to this day so much the theme 
of tradition, and of whom so many wild stories are told. Some notice 
of her life will hereafter be given in these letters. George Howard, 
Esq., gave six shillings, and eight servants, nine shillings. 


that County, Somerset, and Devon, to testifie if The summe 
is 1400/., she loste by a breache of the tyde-storme that 
violently destroyed heare howeses and goodes, and her hus- 
bande was lost in savinge those goodes.' 

"The 'Captives in Turkey/ who appear to have 
been very numerous, were prisoners to the rovers of 
Barbary, whose piratical depredations on the seas, in 
the reign of Charles II., were repressed with con- 
siderable difficulty by the outfit of several naval 
armaments against them. 

"The register of marriages, births, baptisms, and 
deaths is not extant at Tavistock earlier than the 
year 16 14 ; but the Rev. Mr. Carpenter, of South 
Sydenham Damerell, in that neighbourhood, showed 
me the register of his church, beginning in 1539. I 
apprehend this is as early a register as any extant ; 
for in the year 1538, says Stowe, 'in the moneth of 
September, Thomas Cromwell, Lord Privy Seale, 
Vicegerent to the King's Highness, sent forth intima- 
tions to all bishops and curates through the realme, 
charging them to see that in everie Parish Churche, 
the Bible of the largest volume printed in English 
were placed for all men to reade on/ (secured, no 
doubt, like the dictionary of the Grammar School at 
Tavistock, and the Martyrology in many churches, by 
' a chayne/) ' and "that a book of Register were also 
provided and kept in every Parish Church, wherein 
shall be written every wedding, christning, and bury- 
ing within the same Parish for ever.' The various 
heads of the Sydenham Register are preceded by 
certain texts of Scripture, as the baptismal entries by 
'whosoever was not found written in the book of life, 
was cast into the lake of fire/ &c. &c." 

Having given the above very copious extracts from 

vol. 1. 2 G 


my brother's notices of our church, and the curious 
churchwarden accounts (which he took the pains 
most minutely to examine), I shall subjoin a few 
observations from Mr. Bray's MS. notes in continua- 
tion ; and then conclude this letter, which may be 
considered as one addressed to you more in your 
character of an antiquary than a poet ; but the sub- 
jects, however recondite, belong so much to the 
history of this place, they ought not to be omitted. 

Of the church itself, Mr. Bray says, " it consists of 
a nave with an aisle on each side, and a shorter one, 
probably additional, to the south, extending only to 
the chancel. This latter aisle, it has been supposed, 
was not carried on to the end of the chancel on 
account of Judge Glanville's monument, which is on 
that side of it. But by the carved wood-work of the 
ceiling, it appears to be of a more ancient date than 
the rest of the church. The pillars, also, have capitals 
enriched with leaves, whilst the others are plain. But 
the tracery of the windows is less ornamented than 
those to the north. However the windows in their 
general form are the same ; consisting of pointed but 
depressed arches. The tower, which is at the west 
end, (though, strictly speaking, the whole of the 
building varies considerably from the cardinal points) 
is supported on four arches. Through two of these 
was the passage from the Abbey precincts into the 
town, at a spot still called Church Bow, though the 
arch that gave name to it has recently been taken 

"By removing a row of old houses a few years 
since, the north side of the church has- been opened 
to the street, and adds not a little to its embellish- 


" In the tower of the Church, which is 'plain and 
simple but lofty, are eight bells. They were given 
by the Duke of Bedford, who left it to the inhabitants 
of the place whether they would have an organ or 
bells, and they chose the latter. Formerly there were 
only five, which seems to have been the general 
number in country towns. When the poor were 
buried, no bell was tolled, even in an age when the 
tolling of a bell was thought to assist the departure 
of the soul to heaven, till some good old lady, whose 
name has unfortunately perished, gave one for the 
express purpose; and it was ever after called the 
poor-bell. Since they have been increased to eight, 
that among the rest was removed and probably 
melted ; but the third bell still retains the name, and 
is applied to the same purpose. 

"The singular custom existed here, till lately, of 
the sexton's carrying his spade, not shouldered, but, 
to use the military phrase, reversed, before the clergy- 
man at every funeral. But this ceremony of the 
Church militant here on earth is now dispensed with. 

"About forty years ago, a melancholy instance of 
the effects of superstitious credulity happened here. 
Two brothers of the name of Luggar sat up one 
Midsummer-eve in the church porch, from an idea 
(founded on ancient custom) that if at twelve o'clock 
at night they looked through the keyhole of the 
door, they would see all those who were to die that 
year walk into the church from the opposite doorway. 
Their imagination was so worked up that they fancied 
they saw themselves in this funeral procession. Certain 
it is that they both died within a very short space of 
time afterwards ; were both buried in the same grave ; 
and the inhabitants, by having the bells muffled at their 


funeral, testified a more than ordinary commiseration 
of their awful fate. 1 

" In the chancel is a monument to the memory of 
one of the Fitz family ; which, according to Prince, 
'is known by tradition more than inscription, no 
epitaph being found thereon.' But though there is 
no inscription on the monument itself, on a flat stone 
in the pavement beneath may be distinguished the 
following words among others that are obliterated : 
'Here lyeth John Fytz of Fytz-ford, Esquier/ with 
the date of 1539, or 1559 : the third figure of the date 
being much worn, it cannot clearly be distinguished. 

"Prince describes the arms of Fitz as ' argent a 
cross gules gutte de sang/ The arms on the canopy 
of the present monument do not exactly answer this 
description ; but they have so near a resemblance 
that it is probable Prince may have been mistaken. 
They are a cross engrailed with five gouttes de sang 
on each quarter. These are on the right of the 
canopy; on the left are three rams; and, in front, 
the above coats of arms are quartered with others: 
the crest is a centaur. Beneath the canopy, which is 
supported by four columns, lies the figure of a knight 
in armour, with a lady by his side ; the former resting 
his feet on a lion, the latter hers on a lamb. At the 
back of the monument, against the wall, a youth, 
probably their son, is represented kneeling, with a 
book before him on a desk. Some have supposed 
this youthful figure to be the effigy of Sir John Fitz, 
of whom so remarkable a story is told by Prince, and 
who fell on his own sword. 2 It may be such, though 

1 This melancholy circumstance of the death of the Luggars sug- 
gested the ballad of ' Midsummer Eve,' written by Mr. Bray, and in- 
serted in the tale of Fitz of Fitzford, 

2 The story, as related by Prince, will be given in a future letter. 


we have no authority, either written or traditional, to 
warrant the assertion. 

" On the opposite side of the chancel is the monu- 
ment of Judge Glanville. Prince tells us it is ' a very- 
fair monument, so lively representing his person, in 
his scarlet robes, that some, at their first entrance 
into one of the doors there (against which it stands) 
have been surprised at the sight, supposing it had 
been living.' It is certainly very characteristic ; and 
I have no doubt, from its resemblance to a picture 
of the Judge, once in my father's possession, was a 
striking likeness. Altogether it is one of the finest 
monuments I have ever seen of the Elizabethan age. 
His lady, Alicia, is kneeling before him, surrounded 
by their seven children, all of the same diminutive 
size, as if they were brought forth at a birth. 

"Near it (of which, though now effaced, I once 
when some whitewash peeled off saw some vestiges) 
was painted against the wall, as an honorary monu- 
ment, Queen Elizabeth, lying under a canopy, with 
the following inscription, which is preserved by 
Prince — 

" * If ever royal vertues crown'd a crown, 
If ever mildness shined in majesty, 
If ever honour honoured renown, 

If ever courage dwelt with courtesy, 
If ever princess put all princes down 
For temperance, prowess, prudence, equity, 
This ! this was she, that in despight of death 
Lives still ador'd, admired Elizabeth : 
Spain's rod, Rome's ruin, Netherlands relief, 
Heaven's gem, earth's joy, world's wonder, nature's chief.' 

"In the chancel also is a slab on the pavement, 
dated 1740, to the memory of one of the Manatons, 


who, • subsequently to the Glanvilles, were the pos- 
sessors of Kilworthy. 

"In the north aisle are the arms of an ancient 
family, with the following inscription — 

" ' Gladius Spiritus est verus clypeus. 
Sub hoc lateat omnis tuta domus.' 

" Near it is a monument of one of the Fortescues, 
of Buckland Filleigh, which is principally curious 
from the blunders of the sculptor, who seems to have 
corrected the text by turning one letter into another 
and filling up the superfluous parts by a kind of 
composition which is now falling off, and renders 
some of the words difficult to be deciphered. On 
the same side is the upper part of an arched tomb, 
too mutilated to require further notice. In other 
parts of the church are two or three modern tablets, 
and a monument lately erected by the late Mr. Car- 
penter, of Mount Tavy, to the memory of his father, 
and others of his family. 3 

" The font, of an octagonal form, each side bearing 
a shield, is supported on a low pillar, with a base. 
The upper part is enclosed with a kind of wooden 
pyramid, surmounted by a pelican, bearing the date 
1660. Around it is 'God save King Charles 11.!' 
with the names of Alexander Gove and John Nose- 
worthy, churchwardens. 

" On either side of the commandments, at the altar, 
is a border in the form of a pilaster, containing fruit 
and flowers beautifully carved. The figures of Moses 
and Aaron, as large as life, are painted in the com- 
partments beyond, within the railing ; they were 

8 Another monument to the late Mrs. Carpenter has likewise been 
erected by her eldest son, John Carpenter, Esq., of Mount Tavy. 

xxv.] THE SAXON SCHOOL. 455 

executed about the time of George I., by a native of 
this place named Beaumont, and considering the state 
of the arts at that period, and that the artist was un- 
educated as a painter, they are a very respectable 
performance. 4 The altar table is of oak, richly and 
beautifully carved in the Gothic style. The pulpit is 
of much later date, but handsome in its decoration. 
In the church is seen an iron-bound oak chest, most 
probably as old as the building itself; in this were 
found the ancient parish documents before noticed, 
which are so numerous and so curious, that I question 
if any parish in the kingdom can produce a more 
interesting collection of the like nature." 

Having here given you Mr. Bray's account of the 
church, I shall conclude this letter with my brother's 
notice of 


"No mention of such an establishment is to be 
found among the muniments of the Abbey; but 
Archbishop Parker refers to the existence of a Saxon 
school at Tavistock, and at many other monasteries 
within the realm, as a matter in the memory of persons 
of his time. He says that many of the charters and 
muniments of the early times being written in the 
Saxon tongue, these foundations were provided in 
order to communicate the knowledge of it from age 
to age, lest it should at length become totally obsolete. 
It is probable that the Saxon school shared the fate 
of its fostering parent, the Monastery, at the time of 
the Reformation, or that it merged in the grammar 

4 These paintings were removed at the repair of the church some 
years since. 

5 Notices of Tavistock and its Abbey, — Gentleman* s Magazine, 1830. 


school still existing at Tavistock, to which no date of 
foundation can be assigned. Indeed it is not likely 
that so eminent a Monastery as Tavistock had neg- 
lected to establish a school for the instruction of the 
children of the poor in Latin and church music ; the 
mode in that day of providing that there should 
always be a number of persons qualified for the 


" The noble art of printing/' continues my brother, 
"was communicated to our land about the year 1471 ; 
and being first practised in Westminster Abbey, the 
example was soon followed by St. Augustine's, Canter- 
bury, St Alban's, and 'other monasteries of England/ 
says Stow. Among which number was the Abbey of 
Tavistock. Certain it is, that a translation of Boetins 
de Consolatione Philosophic undertaken at the instance 
of one Elizabeth Berkeley, and completed by John 
Walton, Canon of Osney, in 1410, was printed at 
Tavistock, in 1524, 6 under the editorship of Dan 
Thomas Rychard, one of the monks, who, by his 
prefix of Dan or Dominus to his name, was perhaps a 
graduate of the university, or a scholar of some note. 
It might, however, be a distinction added on account 
of the office which he bore in the monastery ; for I 
take him to be the same person who signs his name 
to the surrender, ' Rycardus custos.' The conclusion 
of this book (so rare that Hearne had only seen two 
imperfect copies of it) has the following note : 

" ' Here endeth the boke of comfort called in Latyn 

8 The charter of the Tinners of Devon, small quarto, was also 
printed at Tavistock Abbey, 1534 ; and the Long Grammar ■, contain- 
ing only sixteen pages, edited by Richards.